Courts: Remote, Open and in Between

May 21, 2020

How civil courts are operating during the pandemic has varied widely from state to state – and sometimes from county to county.

Colleen Cotter, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said the approach of Ohio courts has run the gamut. Some have continued holding in-person hearings with few social-distancing protections, and some require temperatures to be taken before entering courthouses. 

Before the pandemic, many civil courtrooms relied on docket calls, where dozens of cases are listed by date, time, and judge.

“Obviously, you can’t do that and have any sort of social distancing, so the courts are going to need to figure out how to replace that in a way that’s safe for everybody,” Cotter said. 

Before the pandemic, half of the clients at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services’ New Orleans office were walk-ins. Moving to remote services may work for some clients, but others may not be able to afford the internet or a cellphone. 

“For those reasons, vulnerable people that cannot access services digitally or even though the telephone, certain people are really at a disadvantage now for services because of the way we’re having to work post-COVID,” said Laura Tuggle, who heads Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.

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