SALT LAKE CITY — The coronavirus pandemic effectively killed jury trials and in-court proceedings, but the wheels of justice have nonetheless been turning, if only virtually.
Judge Todd Shaughnessy of Utah’s 3rd District Court (Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele counties) joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to break down creating the pandemic-response plan for Utah courts and how the courts are now operating.
How the courts have changed since coronavirus
“What were some of the most dramatic changes to the judicial system in Utah since the pandemic began?” Lee asked.
“The most obvious and dramatic change was we all but eliminated in-court appearances and began to conduct almost all of the courts’ business by telephone conference and by video conference,” Shaughnessy said. “And we began doing that almost overnight.”
“How has that been received? Have there been complaints? Has anyone said, ‘Hey this is pretty good. We should continue this on into the future?” Lee asked.
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Shaughnessy said the reaction has been positive. He added that all the people in the judicial process — judges, lawyers and litigants — have stepped up and been patient and cooperative.
“Do you anticipate that there will be legal challenges to the way procedures have been carried out in this era? Will at some point someone say, ‘You know what, I’m not sure that justice actually served me very fairly, and there will be challenges to this?” Lee asked.
“I imagine there will. Lawyers are endlessly creative in advocating for their client,” the judge said. “. . . We’ll just have to see how they play out.”
Jury trials are still out
“We’re not contacting jury trials here in the state of Utah. How long will that last?” asked Lee.
Shaughnessy acknowledged there haven’t been jury trials in the state since mid-March. There’s a huge backlog. He said a two-fold challenge exists: the rights of the litigants to a jury trial have to be respected and also ensuring the health and safety of the citizens who are asked to come serve on a jury.
“It’s a delicate balance that we’re trying to draw,” the judge said.
Shaughnessy said the first step is opening courthouses to in-court proceedings. He said the courts are now operating in three phases: red, yellow and green. All of the courthouses in the state are now in the red phase.
Moving a court to the yellow phase requires certification from the county health department that the COVID-19 rates are either stabilizing or decreasing for a period of 14 days, the judge said.
“As I’m sure you know and have been reporting on, those numbers have been, in most places, increasing,” Shaughnessy said. “We’re inviting the input of experts because we’re not experts on this. We’re looking to the state and local health departments to really guide us on when it’s appropriate to allow those proceedings to open up.”
Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.
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