It has been six long, excruciating months of shutdowns for Pennsylvania courts since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic. To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, only the most pressing cases have warranted in-person court hearings. With the infection rate gradually slowing, the court system has taken steps to reopen a few courthouses, increase the number of staff and visitors allowed and hear more cases.
However, the state is nowhere near returning to normal proceedings. Until the pandemic draws to a close, the court system is adjusting to a new normal: remote hearings.
An increase in remote hearings
Courthouses are frequently packed with people, including security guards, litigants, attorneys, judges, witnesses and spectators. In-person court hearings pose a high risk of infection. Allegheny County has adapted by holding some civil hearings via remote technology.
Technology such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime have allowed civil hearings to proceed, albeit slower than previously. The critical parties attend the hearing via video chat or through old-fashioned conference calls. Remote hearings—nearly unheard of before the pandemic—have skyrocketed.
New format brings challenges and advantages
Those who have participated in remote court hearings say that the format brings its own advantages and disadvantages. Some advantages include:
- No risk of COVID-19 infection
- Participate from the comfort home or office
- Scheduling is often more convenient
- No need for travel or parking
However, these hearings are not without drawbacks. These include:
- Technology delays, breakdowns and other remote difficulties
- Lack of context provided by face-to-face interactions
- At-home setting can prove distracting
- Risks to confidentiality
Granted, the disadvantages for one party could prove an advantage for the other. If, say, a plaintiff or defendant is unprepared, a lapse in technology could provide more time to reflect on their testimony.
The new normal… for now
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is nowhere in sight. For the upcoming weeks—and possibly months—remote access technology in court proceedings will only increase. This format certainly has its ups and downs, but, for the time being, attorneys and their clients must adapt quickly to this new normal.
The litigation attorneys at Houston Harbaugh, P.C., are accomplished business trial lawyers, providing comprehensive support in litigation across a broad spectrum of matters throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and other jurisdictions upon a special admission basis. Our clients are regional and national small, medium and large companies and individuals who seek well planned and aggressive, but cost effective litigation. We counsel, we budget, we have a deep bench, we act quickly when needed and we have experienced trial lawyers who know the courts and bench. We serve regularly as local counsel for some of the largest law firms in the country when they have matters in this region.
Henry M. Sneath - Practice Chair
Co-Chair of Houston Harbaugh’s Litigation Practice, and Chair of its Intellectual Property Practice, Henry Sneath is a trial attorney, mediator, arbitrator and Federal Court Approved Mediation Neutral and Special Master with extensive federal and state court trial experience in cases involving commercial disputes, breach of contract litigation, intellectual property matters, patent, trademark and copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation, DTSA claims, cyber security and data breach prevention, mitigation and litigation, probate trusts and estates litigation, construction claims, eminent domain, professional negligence lawsuits, pharmaceutical, products liability and catastrophic injury litigation, insurance coverage, and insurance bad faith claims.
Samuel H. Simon - Practice Chair
As co-chair of Houston Harbaugh’s Litigation Group, Sam focuses his practice on commercial/business litigation. Sam regularly represents clients in the construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, and wholesale/retail/ distribution industries, as well as individuals in matters such as:
- Construction litigation
- Environmental litigation
- Breach of contract disputes
- Oil and gas litigation
- Restrictive covenants (non-compete agreements)
- Civil rights
- Collections/creditors’ rights
- Lease disputes