By Dave Rogers
For the Record 

Thanks to Zoom, OC justice prevails

 

Last updated 5/5/2020 at 9:57pm

Photo: Orange County courts have held all non-jury hearings via apps like Zoom since the coronavirus outbreak began in The U.S. This screenshot from the 138th District Judge Courtney Arkeen, upper right, and clockwise court coordinator, prosecutor, defense attorney and court reporter. The upper left is awaiting a defendant, who appears remotely from the jail courtroom.

Jury trials have been postponed at least until June 1 in Orange Country.

But that doesn't mean justice isn't getting done.

"We're still conducting essential hearings," Courtney Arkeen, 128th District Court Judge, said of life in the time of COVID-19. "That's things like protection orders, some criminal cases, or restraining order hearings, family violence and injunctions."

Since April, the employees of her court and the rest of the county courts are maintaining office hours but mostly working, virtually, from home.

This applies to the 128th District Court, the 163rd District Court, the 260th District Court, the County Court At-Law and County Court At-Law No. 2

They hold hearings via streaming video on platforms like Zoom or YouTube.

"The court reporter logs on from her home, the court coordinator logs on from home and the prosecutor does the same thing," Arkeen said.

It's the same remote participation for defense attorneys or plaintiffs," she said. "If this involves a person at the jail, there is a [streaming] station in the jail, and the bailiff walks over there.

"It could also involve someone from the probation department."

The legal community has adapted well.

"All of the attorneys and judges have been so cooperative," Arkeen said. "They're willing to learn so they can keep the courts running.

"If there's anything people in Southeast Texas can do, it's adapt to crisis situations."

The judge says she can see how streaming hearings could be popular even after times revert to normal.

"I can see some of this could change the way we do things in the future," she said. "This would work with emergency hearings, things that are time-sensitive, like a deadline for releasing someone, a liberty issue, a CPS [Child Protective Services] removal hearing, a juvenile detention hearing, a family violence hearing.


"And if an attorney needs to go over paperwork, we could do a Zoom with just the lawyer and defendant."

Arkeen says the current situation reminds her of the flooding by Tropical Storms Harvey and Imelda and other recent major rain events.

"We were out for three weeks during one flood and we couldn't do anything," she recalled.

"In this situation, we just moved everything home – files and everything --and kept going."

128th District Court Judge Courtney Arkeen

 

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