PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Fighting the coronavirus has interrupted the fight for justice. With the need for social distancing, court officials are looking for ways to resume legal proceedings in Philadelphia, others fear there will be a backlog.
Having one’s day in court is likely to look different than it used to.
“Literally a few thousand people pour into a single building and sit right next to each other,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “That is not going to be immediately be something we can do.”
Once the courts fully reopen, Krasner predicts that aspects of social distancing will remain.
“We are going to have to have the capacity for some types of court proceedings to be done in ways that involve the use of technology,” Krasner said.
For that, his office is proposing that the city courts establish a Zoom court where hearings could be held virtually.
“That’s actually what I’m doing right now,” Krasner said.
The other issue for the courts once they reopen is a backlog.
“Although the courts are closed, attorneys can still file new matters and they are, so you have a queue forming,” Hon. Stanley Ott, an attorney, said.
Ott served as a common pleas judge in Montgomery County for over 30 years. He now practices law at the firm Mannion Prior.
“It’s still the last resort,” Ott said. “If people can’t settle their differences, the courts are there to help them, but mediation and arbitration are the future.”
Ott sees “alternative dispute resolution” as a more efficient cost-effective way to settle non-criminal matters and save court space.
“The flow of arrests will be huge, the flow of bail hearings will be huge,” Krasner said.
In Philadelphia, the district attorney anticipates that police acting on the warrants issued during the pandemic will add bulk to the system.
“We do not intend to drop cases just because there is a big caseload,” Krasner said.
As for the Zoom hearings, the district attorney’s spokesperson said that the authority to allow the use of such technology lies with the courts, so it’s not a decision for his office to make.