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17th Circuit has the infrastructure in place for a remote jury trial

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Now they need to find parties willing to try their case virtually

Circuit Civil Mock Jury Trial - Voir Dire, Partnered with ABOTAAfter successfully experimenting with online jury selection, the 17th Judicial Circuit is ready to take remote jurisprudence to the next level.

Coral Springs attorney Jeffrey Adelman and his ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale colleagues are requesting volunteers for the 17th Circuit’s first Zoom jury trial.

Details are still being worked out, but given the region’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, Adelman envisions a two-day to four-day civil trial conducted entirely online sometime this month.

“I just think that right now, given what’s going on in South Florida, you’re going to have a terrible time getting people to show up in court,” said Adelman, who is a board certified civil trial lawyer.

The biggest hurdle so far has been finding willing parties, but Adelman is confident that his colleagues in the Broward legal community will come through.

“I’ve spoken with several attorneys for in-house counsel, and I think everybody’s waiting for somebody else to do it,” he said. “What I’m hoping is that somebody will agree to do it on, say, a disputed liability issue.”

The 11th Circuit conducted a remote jury trial in July as part of a voluntary civil pilot program that Chief Justice Charles Canady authorized in five of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. But the non-binding proceeding used a hybrid model that combined remote jury selection with the extensive use of protective equipment for in-person proceedings, after consulting with a team of health experts, including epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists. Chief Justice Canady has given the pilots until October 2 to report their findings.

Unlike the 11th Circuit, the 17th was not one of the circuits selected for the pilot program by the Supreme Court’s COVID-19 work group.

But the 17th Circuit has been a leader in the court system’s pivot to online proceedings, Adelman said, adding that much of the credit belongs to Chief Judge Jack Tuter.

“Judge Tuter has just been incredible, he’s been forward thinking, and in my eyes, leading the way for the rest of the state, and even the country,” Adelman said. “He gets the big picture and we’re incredibly lucky to have him in Broward County.”

Judge Tuter was elated July 10 when nearly 50 of 120 Broward residents followed instructions for participating in an online jury selection experiment that arrived in the mail in June, attached to an otherwise traditional summons.

“None of the 49 jurors who checked in for jury duty could have done so unless they followed all of these instructions,” Judge Tuter wrote in a recent column. “The success rate was a true testament of faith in the jury system.”

Jurors are eager to serve, if they believe they can do so safely, Adelman said.

“The response we got from jurors on July 10 was like nothing I would have expected,” he said. “Some people were saying I couldn’t serve if I had to go to the courthouse, and I really do want to serve my country as a juror.”

Lawyers who participated in the 11th Circuit experiment said they were frustrated because the Zoom format did not allow them to see the entire jury panel respond to their questions. After experiencing the same problem in a mock session, Adelman bought a 30-inch monitor.

“The more real estate you have, the better you can see,” he said. “I’m not naïve, I know there are going to be limitations, but the more we do these, the better we are going to get.”

There are tradeoffs, Adelman said. He likes not having to remember every prospective juror’s name.

“It’s right there on the screen when you do jury selection online,” he said.

Civil lawyers are going to rely more heavily on remote technology when the courts reopen and judges are forced to devote most of their resources to a backlog of criminal cases, Adelman said.

“We are not the priority, as opposed to somebody that is facing prison time,” he said.

Regardless of how they feel about remote technology, lawyers would be wise to become proficient, Adelman said.

“Everybody is going to have to get used to the fact, and recognize, that much of the way that we’ve practiced law has forever changed.”

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