COVID-19 Resources for Lawyers
Featured Guest
David W. Slayton

In May of 2012, David W. Slayton began serving in his current position as the administrative director for the...

Your Host
Rocky Dhir

Rocky Dhir’s dual interest in innovation and the law prompted him to establish Atlas Legal Research, LP in 2000....

Episode Notes

The pace of the court system has drastically changed, and while remote proceedings have taken place where possible, many Texas legal professionals are eager to know when the courts will begin to reopen. State Bar of Texas Podcast host Rocky Dhir is joined by Court Administrator David Slayton to discuss the current operations of Texas courts, how technology has bridged the gap, and how they plan to handle their reopening on June 1st and beyond.

David Slayton is administrative director at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin, Texas.

Transcript

State Bar of Texas Podcast

Texas Judiciary: The New Landscape of Operations During COVID-19

05/14/2020

 

[Music]

 

Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.

 

[Music]

 

Rocky Dhir: Hi and welcome to the State Bar of Texas. You know, I once met a Law Professor who opined that the law is anthropomorphic. That had me scratching my head; primarily because I didn’t know what “anthropomorphic” meant, but once I looked it up though I found out the statement to be rather profound. By the way anthropomorphic means, “described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes.”

 

Taking that concept to today’s landscapes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic I envision the law wearing a facemask and gloves while avoiding all human contact in a desperate and furtive attempt to find hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

 

This is in stark contrast to the law we all knew before the pandemic, a law that was markedly personal with in-person hearings, trials conducted in front of a jury, negotiations taking place across the table, you get the idea.

 

As of this recording the vast majority of courthouses across the United States are closed. Tales abound of hearings being conducted remotely in some courts, but the pace and cadence of the court system has changed and slowed for the time-being.

 

Most if not all lawyers are wondering what this means for the future of litigation and the future of law practice?

 

David Slayton might have some ideas on that. He has been working in the judicial branch for nearly 20 years, assisting with court management in state and federal courts across Texas. David currently serves as the Administrative Director for the Texas Office of Court Administration and the Executive Director of the Texas Judicial Council, positions he has held since 2012.

 

Now, I can’t promise that David has all the answers, but he can certainly give us the right questions to ask. So with that, David, welcome to the podcast, thanks for being here.

 

David W. Slayton: Thanks Rocky, it’s really good to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to have a discussion with you today.

 

Rocky Dhir: Absolutely, now, look, let’s start with some basics for the uninitiated. What is Court Administration and so what you do every day?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, that’s a question my wife and kids always ask me as well, what is it you do? My kids used to say that my job was to go to meetings and travel, and so, most people don’t really know what Court Administration is. But basically we are people who are court administrators are generally people that are not seen by the litigants, the lawyers or the public or behind the scenes trying to make everything run smoothly. So whether it’s making policy recommendations, dealing with budgetary issues, personnel issues or technology, those are all the types of things that we are working on every day.

 

Rocky Dhir: So you are the backstage crew and you are the management and the promoters to put this in concert parlors?

 

David W. Slayton: Right, sometimes we even wear black shirts, just to make sure no one can see us, but now we are backstage trying to keep everything running smoothly, and the best part is, if no one ever sees us then we are probably doing our job well. If we are seen and things are going wrong and having to explain that, we have probably not done a good of job as we hope we would have done.

 

Rocky Dhir: Well, yeah, that’s why this podcast is not visual, because people are much happier when they don’t see me. So, I am with you, I am with you, we are kindred spirits. Now, what got you interested in court administration?

 

David W. Slayton: I guess I met a court administrator who said that when they were a kid and said when they grow up they want to be a court administrator. It seems like most of this have gotten into this field by somewhat accident and my story is no different. I during college was looking for a job and I had a friend who was a Chief Deputy District Clerk in Lubbock County and she said, you know, you can come and file documents in the basement of the courthouse and we will pay you minimum wage and a minimum wage sounded good at that point because I needed a job and so I jumped in and so literally started in the basement of the courthouse filing documents, and then I just worked my way through the court system whether it be state courts or federal courts over the last 20 years and really love what I do, but it’s been a journey throughout the court system and I am happy to learn those and have gone along the way.

 

Rocky Dhir: Minimum wage in the basement of the courthouse; that must have been a conversation starter at the frat parties.

 

David W. Slayton: Right, exactly. So how many documents that you filed today, it is really exciting stuff and it actually made my job whenever I moved to this position, one of my happiest days was signing electronic filing contract.

 

Actually a really funny story is, the day at the Supreme Court of Texas mandated electronic filing in the courts of Texas was the exact same day I started filing documents in the basement of the courthouse many years earlier, so I sort of felt that was kind of interesting that I have been filing all these paper documents and then the court had said, no more paper documents.

 

Rocky Dhir: So it’s on the anniversary, it’s on the anniversary of you starting that job?

 

David W. Slayton: Exact anniversary of the day I started that job, pretty wild.

 

Rocky Dhir: Wow, okay. I guess they figured, David, enough is enough.

 

David W. Slayton: Right. No more filing.

 

Rocky Dhir: That’s right, that’s right. So, look, let me address the woolly mammoth in the room for most lawyers, when are courts reopening, do you have any idea?

 

(00:05:04)

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, so we actually just issued guidance last night, May 4th to all the —

 

Rocky Dhir: On Star Wars Day, May the 4th to be with you, okay.

 

David W. Slayton: Yes, that’s right, we had to figure out a good day to distract people from watching ‘Star Wars’, but basically issued guidelines to them last night to talk about June, post June 1st. So as of right now and for the last several weeks, we have told courts they couldn’t have any non-essential in-person hearings until June 1st.

 

So that’s the day we are planning on courts being able to begin adding in-person hearings again, with a couple of caveats which we can talk about today, don’t you know, the key is to make sure that everyone is safe, so the goal will be that we will continue doing as many remote proceedings as we can, so that if it makes sense in the case and there is no barriers, say the litigants or witnesses can’t join remotely then we will do it remotely just to kind of keep that process underway to reduce the number of people coming to a courthouse.

 

But in those types of cases where it doesn’t work out or that’s not appropriate then we are going to be starting to let people come back together with several restrictions after June 1st.

 

Rocky Dhir: So it’s going to be the next installment of ‘Star Wars’, it will be ‘Return of the Jedi’.

 

David W. Slayton:Return of the Jedi’, possibly they are on May the 4th to be with you.

 

Rocky Dhir: Look, this is why they pay me what they pay me to do this, which is free by the way, so you get what you pay for.

 

David W. Slayton: Exactly.

 

Rocky Dhir: Now when we say “June 1st”, first of all what is that based off of, and secondly, we see reports in the media saying that there is going to be more waves, we have not really flattened the curve yet, this is just the beginning. So how do we pick June 1st? The first part of the question; the second part is, how does that compare with what other courts and other jurisdictions in the United States are doing?

 

David W. Slayton: We have been consulting with the public health officials for the State since early March and trying to help them guide us through every step of the way as to when we needed to begin to close things down, when we needed to in a sense prohibit in-person hearings that were essential.

 

So as we have been looking at bringing folks back together we have been in consultation with the medical professionals, and as of right now I think they are comfortable and we are comfortable that we can do this again on June 1st, and so that’s really the date that we worked with them on choosing, and that’s the date that they felt was comfortable.

 

Obviously if we see a major spike come and other issues that come up that are different than what we are expecting right now, we will have to look at that but I think right now we feel pretty comfortable after having to have that conversation with them.

 

With regard to the other courts around the country, I think it depends on where you are at in the country as to what’s going on. The New York Court System is an example obviously, sort of ground zero for the pandemic. We have seen they shut their court system down almost completely, they even quit accepting filings, they —

 

Rocky Dhir: Oh, even electronic? You can’t even do electronic filings?

 

David W. Slayton: They had no filings coming in.

 

Rocky Dhir: Wow!

 

David W. Slayton: They don’t have mandatory electronic filing. So obviously they were getting a lot of paper filings and so they were concerned about that so they shut that down and for a matter of — they actually still haven’t opened up the ability for parties to file documents in their court systems, so new cases are on hold, everything is on hold. And they just started having remote hearings about a week ago, so obviously when you look at what they are planning their timeframe still weeks and weeks and weeks off. Other courts maybe they were not hit quite as hard as we were or New York was, they have been able to, they are looking at starting at maybe a little bit earlier. So it just kind of really depends on the situation on the ground as to when they are actually getting operational again.

 

Rocky Dhir: Talk for a second about criminal trials, because certainly during this whole phase when courts have been shut down, we still got speedy trial requirement for defendants. So if you’ve got a defendant who is entitled to have a jury trial, but you are in the middle of a pandemic how the courts been addressing that? I don’t practice Criminal Law, so I am not as familiar with that.

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, unfortunately one of the most difficult things to do during the pandemic is a jury trial. Our courts in Texas have actually been able to hold every other top type of proceeding that exists, besides a jury trial, and we have prohibited those since March.

 

Obviously the biggest issue we have is how do you convene the panel together to get the jury trial. And so especially with criminal trials, that’s obviously a big concern because they have a right to a jury trial, they have a right under the US Constitution to a speedy trial and so for the most part judges have been working with criminal defense lawyers and defendants about the timing and looking at where individuals who were in jail might be entitled to bail safely where they can still protect the public, but that is really one of the big issues its facing us is they need to recommence jury trials primarily, I mean, for everything but primarily for criminal jury trials.

 

Rocky Dhir: So this whole time then say since March, have criminal jury trials pretty much not been taking place?

 

(00:10:03)

 

David W. Slayton: As far as I know and I am engaged at the national level on these issues too, and there has not been a criminal jury trial in the country since March on any type of proceeding. There was an attempt last week in Ohio for a Judge to have a criminal jury trial and you can go read about it, but it did not go very well. They were in the midst of trying to pick a jury, the defendant passed out during the midst of voir dire and it turns out that they think he may have coronavirus.

 

The defense attorney have been exposed to the virus and knew that and had been directed to quarantine for 14 days, but yeah, still was on the courthouse with trying to pick the jury. And so, I mean, the situation is difficult, but at this point really no jurisdiction in the country maybe in the world is having jury trials.

 

Rocky Dhir: Wow, okay, so, let’s talk for a second about, this is all very incredible, it’s very fascinating, so I mean, in your job you are seeing this first hand trying to thread the needle if you will between the right to a jury trial and then trying to keep people safe at the same time.

 

Let’s move away from jury trials for a second, let’s talk about, you said, the other types of hearings that can be conducted remotely. I have seen articles, there has been talk about Zoom, Teams, other remote platforms being used, how wide spread is that and do you think courts can use this to sort of — is this is going to be an ongoing feature from now on, is this part of the new normal, these sort of remote platforms? You touched on it earlier, but let’s kind of dive a little bit more into that.

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, so when we started looking at this issue in March, one of the things that we were the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals and our office were really concerned about was, I mean, we are in the midst of complete chaos throughout our country and the need of the courts to still be there operational and be some sort of stability in the midst of this pandemic was really important. And we knew that basically we could do this at least in many proceedings remotely, and so, even though we were allowing only emergency hearings and essential hearings in-person to the individuals who were involved in cases that might be categorized is non-essential, those matters are still — emergencies are essential for them. And so we really wanted to make sure that we had the opportunity for those people to continue to function and have their hearing in court.

 

So on March of 24th our State launched remote proceedings platform, our office provided to all judges in the State licenses to Zoom for hearings and so our judges have just embraced that in ways that literally I would have never expected. In five-and-a-half weeks of having Zoom proceedings the judges of our State have had over 40,000 hearings through Zoom. We have had over 180,000 participants in those hearings, over 60,000 hours of hearings, it’s just really remarkable.

 

I think what we will see in the immediate future or after June 1st even, we are still going to be seeing remote proceedings being used that way. But I think even long term I think we could see some courts using these types of remote proceedings because I think the judges, the attorneys, the litigants everyone has really seen the value that can be held, at least in some cases and some matters of being able to do that remotely. So I think it’s here to stay, it’s certainly been a huge benefit to us during the pandemic.

 

I mean, quite frankly if we wouldn’t have had the ability to do remote proceedings during the pandemic, I can’t imagine what the backlog would be like, I mean, we have had 40,000 hearings. So those 40,000 hearings are going to have to occur at some point and so if we let those stack up and the ones behind them stack up, and obviously when we actually get back to the ability to start operating on a more normal basis then the backlog would be overwhelming and quite frankly would perhaps take years and years and years to dig out of.

 

So we are really pleased that we have been able to do that whether it’s defendants getting their day in court in criminal cases to either plead guilty or make their case for why they shouldn’t have their probation evoked or whatever it is so they can get out of jail or move on about their lives or if it’s a domestic violence protective order case or its even a civil bench trial, I mean, we have seen matters in every type of case and every type of proceeding.

 

Rocky Dhir: You mentioned a second ago about bench trials, civil bench trials. Now — and this kind of raises an interesting question, I don’t know if this has come up yet, but if it’s a bench trial then the judge becomes the fact finder, right, and part of the fact finding is to assess the credibility of each witness. And part of that is looking at their demeanor, are they shifting in their seats, you are trying to assess not just what they say, but how they appear and sort of what their non-verbal cues are when they are testifying.

 

(00:14:57)

 

Has doing this remotely through something like Zoom, has that impacted the fact finding at all, or do we anticipate that there is going to be challenges to fact finding when it was done through a remote platform, where you are just basically seeing a person’s hedge, you are not seeing the rest of them.

 

David W. Slayton: And again, we have had 40,000 hearings, we have over 1300 judges who have been holding remote hearings and I have been checking in with them on these type of issues, and I think what the judges are reporting is, they are seeing people really close in the face and they are able to watch their eyes and watch their mouth, maybe even had ways they weren’t able to before, and so while it’s a little bit different than what they may be used to I think what most of them found is that they are able to judge the credibility in ways or similar to what they were able to before. Obviously it’s something every Judge has to take into account as they look at judging the credibility, and obviously as we look at jury trials, to a degree some of those witnesses are up here and we will have to consider the same thing.

 

But, I think what — at least so far our judges have indicated to me they have not felt like this has been a disadvantage to judging the credibility. I mean quite frankly judges would have in the past done telephone hearings where witnesses are appearing by telephone. Obviously they can’t watch them, and so, quite frankly, if a witness is able to be on video it’s actually even better than obviously a telephone, not quite the same to having in-person we understand, but at least it gives him the ability to take a look and try to judge their capability.

 

Rocky Dhir: Aside from Zoom, is there some other forms of technology that courts were using during this time? I don’t necessarily mean for videoconferences, but even other aspects of the court process, are there — aside from Zoom are there other technology tools or even non-technology tools the courts are using to kind of adapt to this new normal?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, I mean, obviously there is the very simple, I just mentioned telephone, but our platform allows people to appear by telephone, so we have folks who don’t have maybe the same level of access to technology or still able to appear that way. The courts are also using, think about it, when everybody is remote how do you deal with evidence, which seems to be handed over in the courtroom, and so the courts have learned how to be able to get the evidence whether that’s through having the parties or attorneys email it to them in advance or upload it to a Dropbox or Google Drive or Box or one of those type of technologies, those have all been used.

 

And then the other one, probably one of the most interesting ones I think, and quite frankly it was more difficult for judges to get used to is the public has a right to observe court proceedings and almost every type of proceeding. So whenever you are doing everything remotely or the judges and the courtroom, everybody is remote, but no member of the public can come to the courthouse then we got to provide a way for the public to watch it. And so we have been streaming our court proceedings live on YouTube so the public has had a view of the courthouse that they probably never had before. It is really real court TV and so that’s another thing that they have used.

 

So I am really, really proud of the Texas judiciary for just embracing this and saying we are going to do whatever it takes to make sure people can have their day in court now. It has taken a lot of learning and a lot of adjusting and just trying things out, but it’s just done a really good job all across the State, at all different court levels and I am just really proud of all of the judiciary.

 

Rocky Dhir: It sounds like you guys had to adapt very quickly to somebody just kind of snuck up on us. It sounds like, and correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like there was no playbook for this, there was no — nobody envisioned that this — something could happen that would effectively shut down the courts back in March. I mean, was this all new ground or was there already something in play where somebody said, well, this could happen one day, so let’s be prepared.

 

David W. Slayton: Well, it’s sort of like everything. We try to be prepared. The Supreme Court Form Day, a taskforce a number of years ago that was to ensure the judiciary’s readiness in times of emergency. And so that taskforce worked on issues like this, but it was obviously focused on things like hurricanes and fires, but there was a pandemic piece of that because there was a thought that this could happen, and then even last summer at the national level there was a conference held for courts in Nebraska that was just on pandemic preparedness, and Texas had a team there, so we at least had some knowledge.

 

But I don’t think any of us ever really expected this or prepared for this. So we were able to take some of those things that we had learned from, but no, there was no rulebook, there was no playbook and the Chief Justice and I were having a conversation and this has been an unusual time because you have to make decisions without all the information and you have to make decisions with information that’s changing, quite frankly even by the minute or by the hour, so what you thought this morning was the right thing to do. By this afternoon you may have different information that is changing.

 

(00:19:58)

 

And then the other thing I think that’s been interesting for the judiciary generally, historically we look at precedent, we look at how things were done, we are averse to any risk, we want to make sure that we get it right the first time, and quite frankly in this pandemic sometimes that’s not been what we have been able to do. Sometimes we have had to say we are going to move, we may make mistakes, but we will adjust.

 

Obviously we have got to protect against the big major mistakes and obviously not impacting people’s due process or constitutional rights, but on other things, when we started doing remote hearings we literally made that decision in about five days to go from nothing to everybody using remote hearings. I don’t know how many months or years that would have taken in a non-pandemic world, but we just had to make the decision move forward. And literally the first guidance we gave to the judges was you have just got to try this out and work it out. I mean that’s just a weird thing for us to have to tell, because that’s not what we would normally do, but that’s what we need to do in this situation.

 

Rocky Dhir: And you get to tell judges to work it out, they are always telling the lawyers, work it out, you have got a discovery dispute, work it out and now you get to tell the judges, work it out.

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, it was unusual. I mean the Office of Court Administration, we generally try to be a resource to the judges, but it’s generally kind of giving them all the information they need to be able to do it and just kind of helping them understand it and then that’s when we were saying, help us learn. I mean the first week that we did this I contacted about 10 judges in the state and said here is a license, go try it out and tell us what we need to tell everybody what to do.

 

It’s been a little bit uncomfortable, but again it’s worked out remarkably well and the judges have been so great to share with each other and post things on Twitter and send us. Just yesterday we got a document from one of the judges that said here is a way that we can tell the parties even more clearly how to get their audio synced up in Zoom. I mean it’s just been — they have been helping each other, it’s been a really — as someone said, this is a lemonade out of lemons, so we have really seen that happen.

 

Rocky Dhir: Tell the lawyers to make sure they wear suits and pants just in case they have got to stand up.

 

David W. Slayton: Yes. If the judge has you stand up for when the judge leaves or something, I don’t know, you might want to be thinking about that. I mean there was actually, if you look at our website, we have guidance for judges about — and for lawyers and others about appearance and what they are wearing and things, because that was an issue that was raised really early on.

 

I mean I saw a proceeding where one of the attorneys was appearing with a baseball cap turned around backwards and a t-shirt that was — anyway, it was not what you would typically see an attorney wearing in court.

 

Rocky Dhir: But you are not supposed to do that?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, we had to remind everybody, this is court still, it’s just online, I mean there is no difference than what you were doing before, but I think that was — people were used to being on Zoom or whatever platform it was just to have fun, so it was a bit of a transition there.

 

Rocky Dhir: It was interesting actually, you said earlier that that Zoom licenses were given out to all the judges in the states. So does that mean this is being — is this being used even in rural areas or maybe in smaller courthouses and then I wonder how that plays out, because I don’t know what Internet connectivity would be in some of the more far-flung parts of Texas versus in the major metro areas?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, it’s being used everywhere, municipal courts in small areas, large areas, district courts, the Supreme Court had oral arguments, the Court of Criminal Appeals will soon be having oral arguments online, I mean it’s just — everyone is using it. And interestingly enough, while there have been some connectivity issues, I think most courts have found a way to deal with that. So maybe in the rural areas they can’t do it from there — the judges can’t do it from their home, but they go to the courthouse where there is better Internet.

 

I have not heard of a single judge who said I can’t get it to work; I have heard them say I can’t get it to work from my house and so they have gone somewhere else to do it.

 

And we have even not really had any issues despite the fact that we are greatly concerned about people having access to the proceedings, so whether it’s the parties or a witness or whatever, we have been worried about that, but we have actually not heard of any real cases where that’s been an issue. Maybe the party has to go to the lawyer’s office to log on to a device there or something like that, but we have been able to make it work with very little exception, if any, I have not actually heard of any cases where they say we couldn’t do it because the parties couldn’t connect.

 

Rocky Dhir: Well, and this next question or this next concern is not really a small town concern, this happens everywhere, even in the big cities, and that’s there are some lawyers who still — they are still used to paper, they still use fax machines, they still send correspondence on letterhead via certified mail as opposed to just relying on email. So has there been a learning curve for those lawyers? Have they had to just kind of buck up and learn or is there some kind of accommodation that’s been put in place for those that don’t know yet?

 

(00:24:52)

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, the good thing for us is some of it is more fortunate things. We started doing mandatory electronic filing in all civil cases six years ago and then even criminal cases are all mandatory electronic filings. So attorneys have had to learn to get used to technology in one way or another.

 

That’s not to say that appearing by Zoom in a hearing is not something completely unique, because I remember the first oral argument that the Supreme Court had, there was concern about how are the lawyers going to do it, they are not used to it, this is not their typical advocacy. So I think there has been a learning curve, but I think that the attorneys seem to have adjusted really well to this.

 

And the State Bar and a number of other sections of the Bar have put on Zoom training sessions and webinars and CLEs and it’s gone really well to help them kind of get adjusted and used to how to do it. And again, maybe the judge — the one thing that’s unique, it’s been interesting is, if you watch one of these hearings you will see the judge say no, you see that button down there in the middle, click that one, the green one, that’s how you share your screen, and something the judges have had to work things through, some of the things the clerks have done, but I think for the most part it seems like people have adjusted.

 

We chose this platform because we felt it was the most user-friendly, that was really important to us when we were looking. So whether it’s the judge or the lawyer or the litigants or witnesses or whatever, that they would be able to get in and not struggle and some of the other platforms we looked at we felt like maybe weren’t quite as user friendly as this one, that’s why we went with it.

 

Rocky Dhir: There has been some talk about security issues with Zoom and I understand this is a public platform. So if somebody Zoom Bombs you as they call it and just shows up, it’s not fatal because well, at the end of the day it’s a public platform, but can you talk a little bit about the security and to what extent that’s been either alleviated or dealt with?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, that was a big issue for us from the beginning even before everybody else got interested about it. We looked at that right up front. I mean one thing to note is what we are doing on here are public proceedings, so we are not doing national security type stuff, but there are sometimes things that are confidential that we obviously wouldn’t want someone interrupting or even just generally interrupting court proceedings. And so we looked at the security settings from the very beginning and the good thing was by us having a paid account right from the beginning, we have an enterprise level account, that’s the top level account you can get, and so we have access to all the security features. And we went through with our IT department and looked at every single setting and thought about it from a security perspective and made those account settings defaults for everyone’s account so every judge from the very first day they got it had those in place.

 

We enabled the Waiting Room feature so that people can’t just get into a meeting without a judge admitting them. Although we have reminded the judges that let’s just say you accidentally or whatever, you admit someone to a court proceeding that’s not supposed to be there and then they strip down and take off all their clothes, the thought is someone could have done that in a physical courtroom and what would you have done, you would have had them removed. Same thing here, if someone comes in and does something inappropriate in the “online courtroom”, then you just take care of it just like you would have in the physical courtroom.

 

But we have not seen any security concerns that have been talked about in the public that we don’t feel like we have already addressed and so at least as of right now we are not concerned about them affecting the court’s proceedings.

 

Rocky Dhir: I suppose physical security is much better now, because everything is on Zoom, you are not worried about an outburst from a party or somebody sitting in the gallery who decides to do something crazy. So I guess there is a bright side to it as well.

 

You said earlier and I think you quoted, was it 40,000 hearings have been done over Zoom?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah, at least. So we know there have been, and this number is going up by almost a 1,000 everyday at this point, we know there has been over 15,000 separate Zoom meetings held by judges in the last five-and-a-half weeks. Just conservative estimates are three to four hearings per meeting; I know some judges are holding 50 and even as many as 80 hearings in one meeting. Anyway, we are conservatively estimating at least 40,000 hearings, but it’s probably even higher than that.

 

Rocky Dhir: Well, the question I have is how does that compare to pre-March numbers? So if it’s 40,000 over these five weeks, what would you have expected in a five week period prior to all this? I mean is the number starting to catch up to “normal court volumes” or are we still at a lower volume than we once were?

 

David W. Slayton: I would say that we are still lower than what we were, but it’s interesting we are increasing the number of meetings or proceedings held via Zoom by about 150 on average, 150 a week; 700 last week, 550 a week before that, 400 a week before that, and so what we are seeing is a ramp up that is getting — we are getting more and more judges on, more and more volume going through it. And so I don’t think we are back to normal.

 

(00:29:50)

 

But I saw a survey today that said that they thought judges were operating at 25% of volume. I don’t think that’s the case in Texas. I think we are probably closer in the 50%, 60%, 70% volume I guess is what I would think. I mean like I said, judges are doing everything that they could do in person remotely now. There are probably a few exceptions here and there where for some reason that hearing just isn’t appropriate for an online proceeding, but I think that volume is going up.

 

The place where I would say the volume has been lower are in our municipal courts and our justice courts where everybody is — most everybody is representing themselves and just trying to get them notice on where to come and all that has just been a little bit slower. Child support cases and enforcement cases are one of those places where you have got to get the people the notice of where to show up and so it just takes a little bit of time. We are seeing that really pick up and we will see, we will be getting there as it continues, maybe by the time we start back in person we will be about closer to normal volume.

 

Rocky Dhir: And if I could one final question and that’s, here in Texas we are proud, we are proud of our state and what we do and I think certainly speaking on behalf of the State Bar of Texas, we have always been a leader amongst other State Bars and the Texas court system has been oftentimes the envy of other court systems just with the way we do things.

 

So kind of with that backdrop, in terms of Texas’ response to COVID-19, have we been taking our cues from other states, have we been kind of leading the charge, how do the Texas courts kind of compare nationally with the way this has been handled? And of course I understand New York and some other states, they have had to completely shut down because of their volumes and just how badly they have been hammered by this pandemic, but taking states that are kind of at Texas’ level in terms of exposure to COVID-19, how do we stack up?

 

David W. Slayton: You know you are asking born and raised in Texas to compliment Texas so that’s not a hard —

 

Rocky Dhir: It’s a softball question, man, you are supposed to — you have got a grand slam here.

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah. I am on the Conference of Chief Justices, which is the Chief Justices of every state and the state’s court administrators, my colleagues in all the states and territories, we formed the Pandemic Rapid Response Team and I am one of the six members on that; Chief Justice Hecht is the Chair for the Chiefs, and so I am aware of everything that’s going on in the country from all different states. And I think I will say without hesitation Texas is the leader in what’s going on in response to the pandemic around the country. And that’s not just the Texan in me coming out, it’s really true.

 

If you watch the webinars, the materials that have been put out across the country, lot of states are taking their cues from us. We were the first state to really go live full force with remote hearings. We are the ones leading on the jury trial response, how we are going to get back. We were one of the first states to put out guidance for how to return. As far as volume, no one is — certainly at least among us, no one I would say — I was going to say the large states, but obviously the large states’ volume would be bigger.

 

But you look at California is not holding hearings, New York is completely shut down for the most part; they have just started back remotely. Florida has just started doing some remote stuff. So we should be proud as Texans, not just because we are always proud of ourselves, but because I think our response has been really great.

 

And a lot of the other states have taken the lead from our high courts and the orders they have entered. Our Supreme Court entered an order suspending eviction proceedings; they weren’t the first state to do that, but they were certainly one of the first.

 

And then on consumer debt, I think they may have been the first state to do that, working with the legal aid providers and the Creditors Bar and other Bar members to come up with a solution that was good for Texans and then you saw a lot of other states just follow right behind us.

 

Anyway, I think we should be proud of the response. We have got long ways to go. I mean we have got a lot of work ahead of us, but I am really proud of what we have done so far.

 

Rocky Dhir: Well, thank you for the pep talk, because I think a lot of us need it at this time.

 

Speaking of time, that is all the time we have for today. David, thank you for being here, thank you for all of your hard work, you and your colleagues trying to keep us on track and keep these court systems going. Thank you so much for everything you are doing.

 

David W. Slayton: I appreciate it. Thanks for letting us talk a little bit about today and if anyone has any questions or comments, they can always reach out. We are always looking for any feedback or thoughts, so happy to hear from anybody who may have some of those.

 

Rocky Dhir: How is the best mechanism for reaching you?

 

David W. Slayton: Yeah. I am sure our legal staff who launched this email address will be really happy with me for giving it out, but we have set up an email address, it’s coronavirus[email protected], so if people have questions or thoughts or issues, that’s the place to go and then they will get it to the right folks, whoever can answer the question, but [email protected].

 

Rocky Dhir: Awesome. Well, again David, thank you.

 

And of course I want to thank you, the listeners, for tuning in. And before we sign off, just a reminder, please stay safe, make sure to follow all applicable orders for dealing with COVID-19 and please advise your clients and loved ones to do the same. This situation is changing fluidly, it’s changing quickly so please seek out legal counsel if you have a question.

 

If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.

 

Until next time, remember, life is a journey folks. I am Rocky Dhir, signing off for now.

 

[Music]

 

Outro: If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. Go to texasbar.com/podcast. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS.

 

Find both the State Bar of Texas and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.

 

The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by the State Bar of Texas, Legal Talk Network, or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

 

[Music]

 

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Episode Details
Published: May 14, 2020
Podcast: State Bar of Texas Podcast
Category: COVID-19
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State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Podcast

The State Bar of Texas Podcast invites thought leaders and innovators to share their insight and knowledge on what matters to legal professionals.

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