California courts, counsel, and clients benefited from remote access technology that was ramped up during pandemic-prompted shutdowns, and that access should be expanded, a report sent to lawmakers Friday said.
Remote technology is appropriate for all types of civil cases if courts and parties appearing remotely have access to it, clear and private communication between clients and their counsel is available, and the technology provides for clear communication between participants and interpreters, the report said.
“Remote works. Does it have problems? Yes. Can problems be fixed? Absolutely,” Associate Justice Marsha G. Slough of the Court of Appeal Fourth District, and Judicial Council working group chair, said. “And I look forward to the day of working with our legislators and others in moving forward with assuring that we can continue to provide the kind of access to our courts to people in a way that they’ve come to expect and I think come to appreciate and that they know how to use it.”
More than 96% of 33,044 court users and workers surveyed had positive experiences with their remote experiences between March and September of this year, the report said. Some 6,864 court users, or 91%, and 26,180 workers, 97.6%, had positive experiences. The negative experiences reported were mostly technical issues, with only a few respondents noting business process challenges, such as lack of general information and protocol.
“The bottom line is that there has been tremendous usage of remote proceedings in civil court and that the experience overwhelmingly seems to be positive,” Leah Rose-Goodwin, council office of court research manager, told the panel.
The Judicial Council of California unanimously adopted the report and recommendations to expand use of and funding for remote technologies.
The report follows lawmakers’ failure to pass legislation that would have allowed remote hearings to continue after July 1, 2023. Bill author Sen. Thomas Umberg (D) urged senators to reject Assembly amendments that would have blocked juvenile justice, commitment, and other hearings from being conducted remotely.
Lawmakers return to Sacramento on Dec. 5, and the new legislative session begins Jan. 4. Umberg, who won his re-election and likely returns as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, could reintroduce similar legislation.
“We have a very short period of time to demonstrate the usefulness” of remote technologies, Umberg, a member of the council, said during the meeting. “This is useful evidence, but it is really important that the judiciary reach out to legislators and those who are interested in the system” contact lawmakers about their experiences.
Among the report’s recommendations are expanding the pool and use of court reporters through innovative technologies and remote court reporting; providing modernized remote appearance technology and equipment for use in the court; amending Government Code §69957 to allow electronic recording in all case types when a court reporter isn’t available; increasing using electronic recording when a reporter isn’t available to protect a party’s right to appeal; and providing funding to the courts to create new positions that are responsible for providing technical support for remote proceedings.
California used remote technology before the pandemic, but the Judicial Council in April 2020 adopted an emergency rule to provide courts the ability to require judicial proceedings and court operations to be conducted remotely.
Legislation adopted last year allowed a party to appear remotely for a court conference, hearing, proceeding, and trial in civil cases. A separate bill passed last year as part of the current budget required the Judicial Council to submit the report on using remote technology in civil actions.
California in June enacted legislation that, among other things, authorized the use of remote proceedings in criminal matters with the consent of the defendant.