On Wednesday, August 26, 2020, the informational series from the Clark County Bar Association entitled “Clark County Court Updates”—which started in June 2020—was again held for local attorneys on Zoom.
The series will continue to occur on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month for the foreseeable future. Judges from both the Superior and District Courts will be providing information on the latest orders and status updates to help navigate the court system in these unprecedented times.
This informational series for attorney follows many emergency orders issued by the local Courts which we've detailed elsewhere on this blog and can be found here, which cover, among other operational concerns, COVID-19 mitigation efforts (what follows is a general summation of pertinent parts of order 20-13 from an e-mailed notice to attorneys after it was issued):
“Social distancing measures will be strictly enforced to the greatest extent practicable in all Courtrooms and public areas in the Clark County Courthouse, Juvenile Courthouse and Family Law Annex. All persons in the Clark County Courthouse, Juvenile Courthouse or the Family Law Annex shall be required to wear a mask while in the public areas of the building, unless exempted as stated in the General Order [General Order 20-13].”
The key points of intrigue for our Plaintiff's personal injury and wrongful death practice from the latest installment of the “Clark County Court Updates” were:
- Temperature scanning procedures will soon be in effect and fully implemented at the courthouse entrances.
- Mask & social distancing requirements remain in effect.
- Jury trials were set to commence July 6. The Washington State Supreme Court established this date here.
- No jury trials had been called, in fact, since 7/6/2020 (until 8/24/2020).
- Continuances have been granted as requested by parties largely and generally due to concerns voiced by the parties regarding their potentially receiving a fair trial under the current circumstances as well as concerns relating to discovery and trial preparation obstacles due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Court thought it might hold its first jury trial since the pandemic on 8/24/2020—51 jurors were called. Forty of the 51 appeared (which the Court indicated is more or less in line with its pre-COVID average). The Court's observations from interactions with the prospective jurors was that they were willing participants despite the COVID-19 pandemic, generally. In the end, though, that trial was continued due to evidentiary concerns and issues and did not fully take place. But, the Court was able to test out its planned procedures for handling jury panel.
- Jury selection currently takes place out at the Clark County fairgrounds in order for there to be enough space for appropriate social distancing for the proceeding, at least through mid-to-late October. Remote observation of this process is possible.
- As the Court has been handling its dockets over Zoom where attorneys have appeared remotely, the Court made it a point to review proper decorum:
- Attorneys and clients have not been dressing appropriately for Court matters;
- The Court suggested using a background on Zoom to minimize distraction, etc.;
- The Court mentioned a great deal of audible background noise it would appreciate if more participants were sensitive to and would take measures to minimize;
- The Court asked that participant test their audio in advance to ensure a functional microphone, etc.;
- The Court asked that the parties and participants mute their microphones until their matter is called on the docket; and,
- The Court said many participants in hearings appearing by phone have been driving, dressing, etc., which is very distracting to the Court and others involved.
- Additional notes from prior “Clark County Court Updates” in this series:
- Every two trials to be held in the Clark County Superior court will take four courtrooms to allow for enough social distancing for all persons involved (and particularly the jury). This means that, from a space perspective, the Court will only be able to host half as many trials as prior.
- During jury trials, since social distancing is not possible within the confines of the jury box, jurors will be spread out and seated out in the gallery seating of the courtroom. This will leave little space for spectators. Each proceeding will be live streamed for observers (either to another courtroom or online).
- The Court has said that criminal jury trials will be given priority over civil jury trials. This makes it less likely that civil jury trials will happen as scheduled in the near future, but it's still possible.
- Attorneys are likely expected to wear a protective mask for the duration of a jury trial.
- It is anticipated jury trials will commence again as of 9/1/2020.
- The District Court only has one courtroom of sufficient size to have a jury with appropriate social distancing and it is thus also dealing with concerns regarding space and its ability to play host to all of the proceedings that it needs to.
- The District Court is equipping its courtrooms with protective plexiglass around the judges' benches, the judicial assistant and court clerks' areas, and the witness stands.
- All District Court hearings can be streamed live on YouTube. A link is available on the District Court web site.
If you want to watch the videos of the “Clark County Court Updates”, you can see them here.