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Remote proceedings for Michigan courts are "here to stay," says state

a laptop computer with a zoom call on it
Gabriel Benois

Like so many other services, Michigan courts went virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, using Zoom, YouTube, and other technology to conduct and broadcast hearings, trials, and other court business. Now, the state says those remote proceedings are here to stay, at least in some cases.

Tom Boyd is the state court administrator for the Michigan Supreme Court. He says all judges and courts in the state court system got Zoom licenses in the summer of 2019, which eased some of the transition to online proceedings.

"Dockets, notices, you name it, everything had to change, and it is a real testament to the incredible leadership and energy of Michigan's trial court judges and their staff that we did make that pivot so quickly," he says. "Yeah, the technology was in place. Michigan was a leader in putting big screen TVs and cameras in courtrooms over the last two decades, and Michigan was a leader in making sure that every judge had a Soom license in 2019. But the quick pivot in the spring of 2020? You really have to credit the judges, the chief judges, court administrators, probate registers, the people working the trial courts that made that happen."

Boyd says the feedback from attorneys and their clients has been incredible. He says they love the accessiblity and convenience that comes with being able to conduct court business online.

"Rather than traveling or waiting in line or waiting your turn, people can simply continue their work and enter the Zoom meeting at the right time to get their business done. I mean this is a convenience that, you know, we can’t ignore," he says.

Boyd says another positive side effect of online proceedings is the ability to broadcast and livestream those proceedings, something he says allows more people to observe and increases transparency.

"Transparency will help acclimate the general public to what goes on courts. Enhancing transparency enhances confidence, enhances people’s faith in their government," he says.

And Boyd is confident that Michiganders are interested in what goes on in state courts.

"Since the spring of 2020, Michigan courts have recorded more than 3.2 million hours of Zoom participation. The courts' YouTube channels have nearly 125,000 subscribers. Our virtual directory of YouTube channels has nearly 300,000 hits. And our trial court videos played on YouTube have been viewed more than 2.3 million times," he says. "Clearly, the people want to know what's going on in their judiciary, and now we have the technology to help them know it."

Boyd says in the coming months, Michigan courts will hammer out a concrete plan to determine what the protocols will be for remote vs. in-person proceedings, and how best to proceed with the priorities of accessibility, as well as privacy for those appearing in court.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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