President’s Message: To Try, or Not to Try
LaShawnda K. Jackson, Esq.
The Briefs // August 2020, Vol. 88 No. 7
Well, we are almost a quarter into the bar year, and I’m still here and the OCBA is still standing. Thanks to all of you who renewed your membership and encouraged others to join.
I would also like to say a special thanks to the OCBA staff who has worked tirelessly to make sure that the OCBA continues to function during the pandemic. They took on additional roles and continued to work behind the scenes to provide the services our members, committees, and Executive Council have come to expect. So a big thank you to Mildred Rivera Artau (director of accounting and administration); Candice Maull (director of public programs); Olivia Ramos (mediation program manager); Stephanie Sadi (events and seminars coordinator); Ursla Gallagher (advertising and sponsorship manager); Carolyn Cochrane (member service specialist); Manny Restrepo (lawyer referral counselor); and Johnmichael Fernandez (lawyer referral counselor). Your hard work and dedication to the Orange County Bar Association has not gone unnoticed.
One of the hardest jobs of the presidency is coming up with material for the “President’s Message.” (If only the OCBA had a speech/message writer on staff. LOL.) It seems like such an easy task, but it is not. So, thank you to those who have reached out to me with comments on my first two messages and those of you who have given me ideas for future messages. Your thoughts and ideas are truly appreciated.
For this month’s message, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about the relationship between the OCBA and our judiciary. At the end of May many of you tuned in to a Judicial Town Hall with Chief Judge Donald Myers, where he announced that the Ninth Circuit was moving to Phase 2 at the Orange and Osceola courthouses. Many of you may have been disappointed to hear in June that we were moving back to Phase 1 due to the increased number of positive COVID-19 tests in Central Florida and other concerns. What you may not realize is all of the hard work and planning that went into those decisions.
There was a coordinated effort by Judge Myers and all of those involved in the operation and functioning of the court system. I so much appreciate Judge Myers for keeping the OCBA and me involved in this process. One of the critical issues discussed during meetings was the communication to the public and attorneys who use the courthouses. Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell was instrumental in getting messaging out to the OCBA membership about the services and means to access services provided by her office during these unprecedented times.
With the movement from Phase 2 back to Phase 1 of the courthouse reopening came the pause button on the Ninth Circuit’s Jury Trial Pilot Program because the program depended on bringing jurors into the courthouse for pad troops of the virtual trial. Prior to the suspension of the program, I made a call to Judge Lisa Munyon’s chambers. She called me back within 24 hours to address concerns and questions I had gotten from other lawyers about the program. Judge Munyon was very excited about the prospect of the Ninth Circuit participating in this pilot program. Because of Judge Munyon, I was well-informed about the program when I got a call from the Orlando Sentinel to give comments. As I said then and I will say now, we have to give the program a chance.
I had the opportunity to watch some of the virtual jury selection for Miami-Dade County’s first virtual trial in the pilot program that was streamed on YouTube. Kudos to Judge Beatrice Butchko, who presided over the jury trial, the attorneys who participated, and the clients who let them do it. I also noticed that there were law students watching and commenting about the jury selection, and it dawned on me that this could be a great teaching tool for law students and young lawyers.
What was different. For the most part, the jurors appeared from their homes or offices using their own computer or device. The various panels were smaller than they typically would be for initial questioning. In addition to the juror’s number, the juror’s name appeared below his or her video. Therefore, the attorneys did not have to refer back to a list to address jurors by name. Judge Butchko was able to use a breakout room to speak to the attorneys and/ or potential jurors privately with the click of a button instead of clearing the courtroom or taking a potential juror into chambers.
What was the same. Judge Butchko and the attorneys asked the potential jurors the same type of questions that are asked during a typical jury selection. Surprisingly, not many of the jurors I saw had concerns about going to the courthouse for part of the virtual trial proceedings. Like any panel, there were jurors with stories of hardship. Some mentioned finally being called back to work after being furloughed and now potentially having to miss work for a trial. There was even some humor thrown in when the judge mentioned that she would typically ask jurors about any travel plans and then stated, “We’re pretty much not going anywhere these days” to laughter.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not parties should participate in the virtual pilot program. Is it a perfect system? No. Could this work? Absolutely. There is work to be done to make this process better and evaluate whether it is a viable solution during these unprecedented times. What Judge Munyon and other judges need is people to help shape this program and explore ways to improve the judicial system. I encourage all of you to work with our judiciary to find a way to get our clients’ access to jury trials. Ask questions. Give comments. Participate. We’ve been given an opportunity to write history and perhaps reshape the legal system. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.
LaShawnda K. Jackson, Esq., is a partner at Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.A., practicing in the areas of casualty litigation, products liability, and trucking defense. She has been a member of the OCBA since 2002.