In my spring column I wished continued safety and wellness for you and your family and that you remain protected from the COVID-19 virus. Those thoughts and prayers continue but, unlike last summer, we have enjoyed a season of hope and enthusiasm as vaccinations have increased and new infections and deaths continue to plunge, with hope that the worst is behind us.
We have survived having our daily routines turned upside down and escaped infection or worse. Although we are far from declaring “mission accomplished” we are no longer sheltering in place. Most of us are proceeding in a reasoned posture of following the science. We are encouraging everyone to do their part to reach acceptable vaccination and masking levels to achieve the nationwide level of immunity allowing us to return to a semblance of normalcy. We are moving about the country in record numbers. Hotels and vacation rentals are at capacity. Sports arenas are once again filled with cheering spectators, but we need all hands-on deck, committed to finish the job.
Many of us are transitioning from the "new normal" to "what comes next for our courts?" Just as we were settling into remote appearances and asking people to "unmute yourself" we are now navigating hybrid approaches to court. We are still providing distancing protocols, with fewer bodies in court per session, which necessitates multiple court sessions per day for some judges. However, some stakeholders on both sides of the bar have fully embraced the efficiency and ease of remote appearances and other modifications we have adapted to during the pandemic, which are genies that aren't likely going back into their bottles.
While some of our tasks became more cumbersome our stakeholders often found our modified procedures made courts more accessible, less intimidating and user friendly. The challenge for judges and our support staffs will be how we will blend the best of the "new normal" and "the old way." Because there won't be a "one size fits all" solution this will likely be a period of experimentation and further innovation to come up with what works in our respective courts.
As we sort things out, one thing we must continue to do is collaborate and share best practices and innovations through our conferences and the Judicial Division. We have CourtCalled and Zoomed our way through the pandemic, with lessons learned and technological innovations but more importantly, the resolve of the human spirit to serve the public and protect the rule of law.
I have often said throughout this saga a court is only as good as its infrastructure, i.e., the clerks who calmed the public’s fears to assure them that no warrants would be issued while the courts transitioned to virtual platforms, the technology gurus who unlocked the marvel of electronic signatures and virtual platforms and the court administrators whose relentless efforts to acquire and deploy equipment and resources to keep court operations accessible to the public. Therefore, before we fling the courthouse doors open wide to welcome the public, I would like to suggest we embrace our court staff. We need to take the time to understand their challenges through this journey, such as working remotely and homeschooling children and perhaps coping with illness or loss; and ensure them that they are appreciated and valued.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I heard several Chairs muse about feeling disenfranchised with the cessation of in-person meetings and suggesting that we should be entitled a “do over” year. Well, I think most of us have come to the realization operating and leading under such uncertain, stressful, and arduous conditions with multiple levels of responsibilities has been quite enough and it is time to pass the torch.
I will conclude by saying it has been my profound honor to Chair the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges and to work with this incredibly diverse and dynamic group of judges and lawyers, committed to equity, justice, and the rule of law. While we are not able to accomplish all that we had hoped during this COVID impacted year, our work on the impact of the McGirt v. Oklahoma case promises to leave an indelible mark at the ABA and across the justice system.
Continue to stay safe and well.