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ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale educates its members on remote proceedings

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ABOTAShadows partially obscured one juror’s face and an electronic echo rendered another periodically unintelligible.

The plaintiff’s attorney’s home internet crashed while he was displaying accident photos via a screen-sharing feature. He quickly reconnected to the Zoom session via an iPhone.

“This has never happened to me before,” said the attorney, ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale board member Daniel Harwin. “We just have to be prepared, the same way we do when we prepare to go to trial.”

Fortunately, the proceeding was part of an ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale mock jury trial/focus group recorded November 17 titled, “Focus Group Webinar: The Social Science of Litigation.”

The proceedings were designed to demonstrate the benefits of focus groups and remote technology for legal proceedings.

Before the demonstration, three South Florida circuit judges, including 17th Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter, urged viewers to reconsider any objection to remote jury selection in civil cases.

Facing a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic and massive backlog of cases, the courts will depend on remote jury selection to keep dockets running, the judges said.

“What we have to do is to get you. . . to convince your clients that this can be done,” Judge Tuter said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here telling you as chief judge that we can do this…if I didn’t think we could.”

For the mock session, Miami-Dade ABOTA President Norman Waas appeared as defense counsel. Litigation consultant Joyce Dwyer, of Jury Duty and Litigation Consultants, Inc., served as moderator.

The proceedings were a mock replay of a civil trial plucked from an actual case file, “Jeffrey Jordan v. Waste Management and Jose Rente.”

The simple damages trial arose from an April 2016 motor vehicle accident that involved injuries.

Dwyer frequently interrupted the mock proceedings to question six good-natured volunteers — four women and two men — who served as mock jurors.

She assured the panel that videoconferencing glitches, just like interruptions in traditional trials, are routine.

“This is reality folks, I deal with this on Zoom, we do manage to work through the kinks, as long as it works, we get back on track and we get through it,” she said. “If this ran smoothly, everybody would think it’s rehearsed.”

Dwyer was careful to ask panel members to register their impression of the technical delays.

“Are you being patient, are you getting frustrated, would this impact the impression you would have as to whether the witness is truthful or credible?” she said.

Panel members assured her that any technical difficulties would not impact their impression of the evidence or witnesses.

“By nature, I’m a very patient individual so it really wouldn’t bother me very much,” said one middle-aged man known as “Juror Frank.”

“Finding parking downtown, that would be more frustrating than dealing with Zoom,” he added.

After both sides presented their cases, the jurors chose a foreman and quickly agreed to award the plaintiff $250,000 for past injuries. But they were dismissed because of time considerations before they could agree on an amount to award for future damages.

Dwyer thanked them profusely.

“You all did an amazing job in front of a large audience of attorneys,” she said. “You took this as seriously as if we were in a real courtroom. We have to get trials moving in some format.”

After the jurors logged off, Harwin pronounced the presentation a success. Focus sessions are invaluable because they give lawyers a broader perspective, he said.

“I think there are a lot of things that we miss when we are totally embedded in, and can sometime put blinders on, in our respective cases,” he said. “There’s never been a time that I’ve done this and regretted it.”

ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale President Jeffrey Adelman, a board-certified civil trial lawyer, also pronounced the session a success. Previous ABOTA mock sessions have proved that remote technology can work for jury selection, he said.

“I think back to what Judge Butchko said,” he said. “We can’t let this pandemic stop justice.”

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