Virtual Jury Trials Are Here to Stay . . . for Now

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For a while, we seemed headed toward resuming in-person jury trials here in Travis County. A few live trials took place under the civil district judges’ pilot program, including a two-week proceeding before Judge Amy Clark Meachum that resulted in a record-setting plaintiff’s verdict.

With the rise and persistence of the Delta variant, the Travis County district judges have paused the in-person pilot program. Based on what I’ve heard from the judges and staff, in-person jury trials will not likely resume until next year.

The district judges wisely continued full speed ahead with virtual jury trials when launching the in-person pilot project. The way things are going, virtual proceedings seem like the only hope for cutting into what is now an 18-month backlog.

Roadmaps for Virtual Jury Trials

Although some lawyers remain skeptical about virtual jury trials, Travis County has been a national leader in establishing workable remote protocols. Prospective jurors are issued an iPad that provides access to Zoom for video and Box for exhibits. Judge Karin Crump covered the details when she appeared on the Texas Appellate Law Podcast, which I co-host with Fort Worth appellate lawyer Jody Sanders.

Judge Crump and the Austin Bar Association have done a great job educating lawyers on how the process works and helping them get more comfortable with it. Another vocal proponent is 394th District Court Judge Roy Ferguson, from far West Texas (yes, the “Lawyer Cat” judge), who shared his early experience with virtual juries in another podcast episode.

For cases that that just can’t wait until 2022 (or later) for in-person proceedings, a virtual jury trial is an option worth considering.

Key Tips

With Judge Crump’s permission, I created these short video excerpts with her tips for putting your best foot forward in a virtual jury trial and preparing a witness to testify over Zoom. If you’re a lawyer who appears in Zoom court, I think you’ll find them worth your time.

D. Todd Smith
About the Author

D. Todd Smith is an Austin-based civil appellate specialist who works with trial teams from the earliest stages of litigation. In trial courts, he takes the lead on strategic analysis and briefing, jury charges, and potentially dispositive motions, all with a focus on preserving error and positioning cases for appellate review.

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