By Mike Mendenhall & Max Marbut • Staff Writers
The Jacksonville City Council voted 18-0 on March 23 to appropriate a $10,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts for a “proof of concept” study for remote jury selection.
Council approved Ordinance 2021-0160 as an emergency to provide funding to the 4th Judicial Circuit to purchase equipment for remote jury selection April 8-9 for a wrongful death civil trial scheduled to begin April 12.
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,” Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson said March 12.
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 August civil jury trial was the first 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 to improve 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 help courts begin to hear cases again, 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.