by Destiny Barbosa
June 12, 2020
Virtual civil trials are coming! As a result of the ongoing pandemic, jury trials have been suspended in all Florida courts since mid-March because the process of assembling hundreds of jurors in a single courthouse would be difficult while maintaining safe socially distant practices. Courthouses are open, but for limited and specific purposes only, in order to preserve the public’s health and the health of the court staff. Courts around the state have begun the process of shifting routine and “non-essential” hearings to a virtual format, which has allowed litigants the opportunity to continue advancing their cases.
Every workday since March 16, 2020, lawyers and judges have signed onto Zoom (or another virtual format) to handle hearings, depositions, and mediations. The Florida Supreme Court has now added civil jury trials to this list – at least in five counties here in Florida. From July 31, 2020 until October 2, 2020, some civil jury trials in Duval, Volusia, Orange, Lee, and Miami-Dade Counties will take place virtually. In order to have a virtual trial, the lawyers for both sides must consent to the process, and the case must be one that is “conducive to a remote proceeding”. The five counties were selected based on geographic diversity, infection concentration levels, and the capacity to conform with the technological requirements of a virtual trial.
The Florida Supreme Court has put together a task force, which will monitor and report its findings with these pilot virtual trials. The purpose of this task force is to assemble a framework for the trials and layout guidelines for the best practices in the future.