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Judges hold video hearings as courts close doors during pandemic

Judges hold video hearings as courts close doors during pandemic
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Judges across the country are embracing video technology as a means to hold hearings and conduct other judicial business while courtrooms close their doors amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In an effort to limit person-to-person transmission of the virus, many state and federal courts have adopted video or telephone conferences as the country scrambles to adapt to the widespread disruption wrought by the pandemic.

For the first time in its history, the North Dakota Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments over a video-conferencing application, which allowed the justices to practice social distancing as they peppered lawyers with questions.

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“Most of the lights were out Monday at the North Dakota Supreme Court [as] part of social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a news release on the state court’s website. “But the Justices conducted business nevertheless - simultaneously from locations all over the state.” 

A social media post featuring a screengrab of the hearing showed the justices, wearing their judicial robes while filming from home, interacting with advocates.

North Dakota is one of the many states to curtail or suspend jury trials, while moving other court business to digital platforms amid the slowdown in judicial activity.

Contingency planning plus the advent of more sophisticated technology has made courts better prepared to operate during emergencies than they were prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or Hurricane Katrina, according to William Raftery, a senior analyst with the nonprofit National Center for State Courts.