All Rise: Virtual Court Is Now in Session

September 16, 2020

America’s courts are gradually making their way back from the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey by the National Center for State Courts found that public faith in courts is steady, still at the 70 percent average of the past eight years, but that willingness to set foot in a court is a different matter.

For a majority, comfort with reporting to a courthouse in person or serving in person on a jury hovers around 5 on a scale of 10. Two out of three would be willing to appear remotely, up from two out of five in 2014. Given a choice, almost twice as many (44 percent) would prefer remote service to serving in person (23 percent).

One of the pioneers of moving judicial functions from physical to virtual is Emily Miskel, who as the administrative district judge for 21 courts in Collin County, Texas, is responsible for sorting out their administrative challenges. “Lucky me,” she laughs about finding herself in this role during a pandemic.

As it happens, Miskel has training, interests and skills that have served her courts well. A Harvard Law School graduate, she earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. She is a member of the computer and technology council for the state bar and the author of a book on wiretapping. “I have focused on technology since I’ve been a lawyer,” she says. “When all this happened, I had the tech part lined up, and that made me brave enough to try things.”

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