An ordinance to appropriate a $10,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts was introduced to City Council on March 10. It will be considered on an emergency basis, allowing a one-cycle process toward the final vote.
The money will be used by the 4th Judicial Circuit for a “Proof of Concept” project that is studying remote jury selection.
The court will purchase loaner laptop computers and temporary internet access for people who don’t have the equipment in their homes to be able to serve as a juror.
“Jurors won’t be excused for not having the technology,” said Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson.
The national courts organization offered the grant to the city after viewing the videos and reading the final report about two remote civil jury trials conducted in Jacksonville in August and September, Anderson said.
He led the team of court staff and volunteers that developed the procedures that made the remote proceedings possible.
Anderson was in a courtroom at the Duval County Courthouse for the trials, along with a few members of the court technology staff. The litigants, witnesses, attorneys and jurors appeared in court on video from their homes and offices.
The trial in August was the first civil jury trial to a binding verdict conducted in the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic forced courthouses nationwide to close to the public in March 2020.
Anderson said the team continued working on improving the process after Oct. 2, when it presented the final report about the remote trial pilot program to the state Supreme Court.
The team determined that a hybrid system could be a way to help courts begin to hear cases again, even considering the continuing social distancing required by the pandemic.
The concept is to interview and select jurors remotely, have them in-person in the courtroom to hear the evidence and then reach a verdict, Anderson said.
The grant also will allow the 4th Circuit to continue developing the new jury selection model without taxpayers bearing the cost for the laptops and internet, he said.
Emergency passage by Council is needed because the 4th Circuit wants to buy the equipment before it selects a remote jury April 8-9 for a wrongful death civil trial scheduled to begin April 12.
“There’s no crisis. We want to have the system in place by April 8,” Anderson said.
After that trial concludes, the team will submit a report to the National Center for State Courts.
“We hope to develop a model that other courts can use as an alternative to traditional jury selection and trial,” Anderson said.