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FACDL calls for remote proceedings for some court business

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Jude Faccidomo

Jude Faccidomo

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is urging the courts to return to a more robust use of remote proceedings to counter a recent spike in COVID-19 infections.

FACDL President Jude Faccidomo said remote proceedings are more efficient “and frankly, safer.” However, he stressed that the association is calling for greater use of remote proceedings for non-essential matters.

“We 100% agree that there are functions of the court that need to be in person — your evidentiary hearings, your trials, your probation violation hearings,” he said. “Those are essential proceedings, it’s the business of the courts, that’s what the system is for.”

But the “the day to day, the status conferences, the discovery motions, those can be handled quickly and efficiently in a remote proceeding and limit the personnel in the courthouse, thereby protecting the safety of everyone,” Faccidomo said.

Faccidomo spoke a day after Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a statement assuring that the justices were “actively reviewing available health data and the work of the courts throughout the state” following the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking order.

“Chief Justice Charles Canady and leadership of the State Courts System continue to monitor health conditions throughout the state and remain alert to guidance provided by state and federal health agencies, including updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations issued July 27,” the statement said.

The announcement referred to Justice Canady’s June 4 administrative order encouraging the use of remote proceedings.

The order states that “each chief judge of a judicial circuit should take all necessary steps to support the remote conduct of other trial court proceedings with the use of technology in accordance this administrative order and other applicable standards and guidance as may be adopted by the Chief Justice or supreme court.”

Faccidomo said he welcomed the announcement.

“The chief justice did point to the latest administrative order, which, as you know, does encourage the use of remote proceedings, so that is certainly appreciated,” he said.

Faccidomo said 11th Circuit Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie and Administrative Judge Andrea Wolfson were receptive to FACDL’s concerns in a recent meeting.

Faccidomo said the 11th Circuit reduced remote proceedings to a “trickle” earlier this summer as infection rates fell and courthouses reopened to the public.

“I give them a lot of credit, because as it became a safety issue, and as they begin to see that there is a bit more functionality with remote, they are apparently revisiting their initial position, which is what we’ve been asking since we started to ease out of this,” he said.

Faccidomo said FACDL is concerned that an increase in infection rates will exacerbate a 1 million case backlog, largely attributed to the pandemic and its economic fallout, that has been projected for July.

State economists recently identified 27,000 pending felony cases that they predicted would take several years to clear.

FACDL remains worried about disease spread in pretrial detention facilities.

“It is nearly impossible to control infection rates in a jail when there is no mandate that employees be vaccinated and new inmates arrive daily,” Faccidomo said. “The holding of hearings by Zoom from jail rather than transporting hundreds of inmates daily also makes better sense for the safety of all.”

At a July 23 Board of Governors meeting on Miami Beach, former President Michael Higer (2017) said the legal profession should not “abandon all of the opportunities” remote technology afforded at the height of the pandemic. Zoom and other remote platforms have been credited with allowing Florida courts to dispose of some 3 million cases during the pandemic.

Forgetting that lesson risks turning the pandemic into a “lost year,” Higer warned.

“There are certainly a lot of things that we have seen that we can do well virtually,” Higer said.

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