CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way a lot of us do business, including the legal system, which has taken hearings online.
When local judges started holding online hearings, the Nueces County jail couldn’t connect to the courts remotely. That technology was recently installed, meaning inmates don’t have to leave the jail for hearings. Court is in session inside the Nueces County Jail.
“We’re set up with electronic technology, teleconferencing, for court procedure,” said Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper.
Almost a month after local courts started remote hearings, the county jail is online. Before the pandemic, deputies had to escort inmates from the jail to the courthouse. Now, the trip is much shorter and safer for the inmates and public.
“If it takes 30 minutes to get somebody over from the jail for a two minute hearing, it’s much easier to get them from their jail cell to the Court Call room and then be able to have that hearing,” said 347th District Court Judge Missy Medary.
Using a video monitor and camera, the inmate stands in a room formerly used for DWI investigations. There, they face the judge, who is connected remotely, as are attorneys. There’s even a feature which allows inmates to meet privately with their lawyer.
Each judge has a time assigned for their dockets.
“We’re able to have the hearing with a lot less disruption, a lot less staff being used for the Sheriff’s Department,” said Medary.
Two weeks after the system was installed at the jail, Hooper believes remote hearings are the wave of the future.
“After this is all said and done, there’s a good chance that we’re going to be making better use of technology and other tools we may have picked up on during this period of time,” said Hooper.
Medary agrees, but says some proceedings, like jury trials, will always be inside a courtroom.
“Other hearings, arraignment hearings which take five seconds basically, those kind of things we can do from the jail,” said Medary.
Medary says the only real drawback to online hearings is they’ve been taking longer. She expects more efficiency as everyone gets more comfortable with the system.
Because court proceedings are supposed to be open, Medary and the other local judges have started broadcasting their dockets live on YouTube.