When will the trial court in Philadelphia County be open for jury trials in civil actions? While a precise prediction, given the current state of our trial courts in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, is difficult to make, what is known is that the use of virtual technology is likely permanently changing the landscape of civil litigation, including depositions, mediation, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Even civil jury trials, at least in the near term and during the pandemic, are being conducted virtually, either by private agreement, or through the courts, as is occurring in Texas and most recently in Florida with its pilot virtual trial program in five of its trial courts. While it is necessary at present for the parties to consent to a virtual trial, courts may ultimately compel the parties’ participation. Regardless, litigants and their counsel are well advised to understand the complexities and manner of a virtual trial.
Seasoned trial attorneys have long experienced and are comfortable with virtual depositions bringing distant counsel, parties and witnesses together through technology to present testimony. The use of virtual technology as a means for court arguments and hearings, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution, while novel and emerging as the new normal, is territory where a comfort level can be achieved. And while distinctions most assuredly exist, recent experience has demonstrated that court arguments, mediations and depositions can be conducted effectively remotely and virtually. Legal issues certainly do remain in the context of the deposition of parties to a civil action regarding whether a lawyer’s physical presence in the same room with a party-witness can be demanded, and whether courts would compel a virtual deposition during the COVID-19 pandemic where such physical presence of a party and their attorney could not be achieved. Undoubtedly these issues will be resolved, likely sooner than later, given the scope of the pandemic in certain areas.
Reprinted courtesy of White and Williams LLP attorneys Andrew F. Susko, Robert G. Devine and Daniel J. Ferhat
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Mr. Ferhat may be contacted at email@example.com