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Jury Trials in the Age of Zoom

August 18, 2020
Legal News

Zoom Jury Trials: Keeping jurors’ attention, avoiding “Zoombombing” and making sure everyone is on mute except when speaking

By now, most people have participated in a video conference via the Zoom platform or another one. If you have, you’ve also probably experienced audio difficulties in the form of barking dogs, phones ringing or, as the United States Supreme Court discovered during a remote oral argument this year, a toilet flushing. Other real-life embarrassments have included: video participants forgetting to turn off their cameras while changing clothes and even a hacker interrupting a Florida court proceeding with completely inappropriate material.

Recently, our local state court held a jury trial via Zoom (we also defended and won a Zoom federal bench trial for our client Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in just the last several weeks.) By all accounts, it was a success. In the pilot jury trial project, the judge, bailiff, lawyers for the parties and prospective jurors all appeared via video for jury selection, known as voir dire. Later, everyone on the jury and all of the participants held the short insurance trial in person, but with social distancing.

Many trial lawyers and judges had expressed skepticism about jury trials and selection over video. This skepticism was not entirely unfounded, as there was an obvious shortage of personal interaction. Because each potential juror appeared from their own location, no doubt they also experienced the distractions that come with attending a meeting from your living room or kitchen. On a number of occasions, the judge had to stop proceedings to ask jurors to remain focused on the selection process.

So what happened? It worked.

Are Zoom jury trials a perfect substitute for being there in-person and establishing rapport with the jurors? No, but it is technology that was not readily available or technically as advanced just a short time ago. No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred advances in this technology—including simply getting people more familiar with it—and for better and worse, it’s probably here to stay.

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