Seemingly everyone knows about videoconferencing software company Zoom. Friends, family, co-workers, grandparents, and neighbors have stayed connected with video chat during the pandemic. Now a Texas court is preparing to conduct a jury trial by Zoom this week.
In a first, lawyers in an insurance dispute in Collin County District Court will present their case on Monday via Zoom to court officials, which will be available to watch on YouTube (click here for live stream -- video will be streamed at some point on Monday). Jurours will be able to hear a "condensed version of a case and deliver a non-binding verdict," reported Reuters.
"So we are going to have the jurors report through zoom," 470th District Court Judge Emily Miskel told NBC DFW last week. "Doing a short trial through zoom. Having them deliberate through zoom and give a verdict."
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht recently said, "it's just too dangerous" to have people in a "courthouse and make them sit together for days at a time."
Judge Miskel said the Zoom trial could serve as a pilot program to see if the future of trials could one day be virtual.
"We're open to creatively thinking about any way to be able to get the jury trials that they need, to allow citizens to participate in their jury service, and to do it through creative remote ways," she said.
US courts have limited operations since mid-March when the pandemic lead to soaring virus cases and deaths. Many states locked down economies and enforced stay-at-home orders for citizens to flatten the pandemic curve. Some courts have already experimented with videoconferencing platforms, but the trial on Monday is a first.
Monday's case is a dispute involving commercial property damages during a severe weather event in 2017. The summary jury trial is non-binding, which means lawyers could settle the matter. If there's no agreement, a full jury trial will be slated an unknown date.
As concerns emerge about a second wave of the virus, courts might have to quickly adopt videoconferencing for trials.
If all goes well on Monday, virtual trials could soon become the norm.