WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - Court hearings in the state of Texas will remain virtual until at least April. All trials have been postponed since the beginning of the pandemic.
Normally courtrooms would be packed as defendants plead their case to the judge and jury. Now those wooden benches sit empty. The sound of a clicking mouse has replaced the strike of a gavel.
“It’s certainly a challenge and it’s one that we’ve had to meet head on and make the adjustments necessary to make sure cases are still moving through the process as best they can,” Judge Jeff McKnight of the 30th District Court said.
Judge McKnight remembers being in court the day Wichita County saw its first COVID-19 case. Soon after all trials ceased. “We’ll see a backlog of predominately jury trials and we’ll see most of those are in criminal cases,” Judge McKnight said.
The earliest those could start back up is in April, but work hasn’t stopped at the courthouse. Everything but trials happens daily, it’s just over Zoom now.
“We’re trying to give everybody their day in court the best that we can,” Judge McKnight said.
Judges and lawyers alike say the new way of doing things comes with drawbacks.
“I think it’s important to be able to look someone in the eye and talk to them, hopefully educate them and make them feel better, and that’s just easier to do in-person than it is on the phone or on a video chat,” Dustin Nimz, a attorney in Wichita Falls, said.
On the bright side, virtual hearings mean not having to travel far if you’re out of state.
“For a lot for these routine matters there’s no reason for someone to buy a plane ticket from California to come to a hearing for 20 minutes in Wichita Falls, Texas,” Nimz said.
So while it may not be perfect, going virtual has meant most cases can still more forward.
“At the end of the day it is a solution to a unprecedented problem that we’ve never faced,” Judge McKnight said.
The call on when in-person trials can start back up comes from the Texas Supreme Court. Judge McKnight says historically they get an update on deadlines a few weeks before they happen.