DALLAS — The potential jurors popped onto the screen one by one. They confirmed their names and told the judge how they were connecting to the court: on laptops, tablets and iPhones.
There were some wireless issues and camera problems, but eventually 26 Texans in separate boxes raised their hands for the judge and together swore the juror’s oath, beginning the experiment of conducting a civil jury trial entirely over Zoom.
The coronavirus pandemic has crippled courts nationwide, putting many cases on indefinite hold and leaving judges trying to manage some hearings via videoconferencing. The delays have kept some defendants in jail longer, exposing them to possible outbreaks. And the virus even upended how the Supreme Court operates, with the justices hearing oral arguments by phone for the first time in the court’s history.
The test jury-trial-by-video that was held in suburban Dallas this week could reveal a possible path forward in which jurors are kept safely distanced while cases are allowed to proceed until the coronavirus threat has receded enough to resume some semblance of normal life.