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17th Circuit transitioning to online justice

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Chief Judge Jack TuterSeventeenth Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter says the transition to administering online justice has gone well in his jurisdiction, given that Broward County has been one of Florida’s COVID-19 hotspots.

“I would say that I am overwhelmingly appreciative of the work our judges are doing and their use of the Zoom platform, they just took the bull by the horns,” Judge Tuter said. “The challenge, of course, is to avoid all of the face-to-face and continue to move the dockets.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady and the Office of State Courts Administrator deserve credit for rapidly securing licensing agreements and making more equipment available, Judge Tuter said.

Most of the circuit’s 90 judges and 11 magistrates, and their judicial assistants, are working from home, Tuter said.

Meanwhile, the circuit is conducting many civil hearings as well as first appearances, domestic violence, and juvenile detention hearings via Zoom conferencing.

So far, none of the proceedings have been sabotaged by so-called “Zoom bombing.”

“I am aware of the issue and we have made adjustments,” he said.

Still, the virus has posed daily challenges, Judge Tuter said.

“I’ve made more decisions in the past 10 days than I have in the three years that I have been chief judge,” he said. “It’s been mostly in the area of due process.”

A mental-health facility stopped taking new patients to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and a juvenile detention facility was closed when the virus was detected there, leaving judges with fewer options, Judge Tuter said.

The Zoom platform has many advantages, Judge Tuter said.

“The hearings are shorter, it’s kind of like a phone call, you don’t tend to stay on as long,” Judge Tuter said. “People say they are getting more work done from home because they are more isolated and don’t have as many distractions.”

Tuter said court technicians are beginning to connect the Zoom platform with YouTube, to give the public greater ability to view court proceedings during the emergency.

“I can tell you this, Zoom is going to be the wave of future when this is over,” he said. “Why drive all the way to Ft. Lauderdale when you can be back in your office?”

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