Wisconsin courts have logged 35 million minutes in Zoom meetings since March, according to Judge Randy Koschnick, director of state courts.
Koschnick gave his annual address at the 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Judicial Conference on Thursday.
As the pandemic took hold in Wisconsin and the U.S. in March, Koschnick said in-person court activity dropped 70% statewide. Before the pandemic, the courts averaged about 16,000 case filings a week. After, that number fell to 6,000 filings a week.
Koschnick set up state courts with Zoom licenses in mid-March to allow proceedings to continue virtually. He said it was a project that would normally take more than a year to roll out, but the court system managed to do it in weeks.
Since then, Koschnick said Wisconsin courts have held 87,000 meetings with 930,000 participants using Zoom, for a total of 35 million meeting minutes logged on court Zoom accounts since mid-March.
“If the pandemic has had any positive effect in terms of court operations, it may be that we have found new and innovative ways to use technology,” Koschnick said. “We’re planning to continue to taking advantage of that technology after the pandemic.”
He said Zoom has also helped courts that have struggled to find interpreters and stenographers. These courts can now tap resources from other places in the state and country for virtual proceedings if someone local isn’t on hand.
Chief Justice Patience Roggensack also praised state courts’ adaptations during the pandemic. During her 2020 State of the Judiciary Address, she drew attention how courts have adopted to remote proceedings and other measures to keep the courts operating and people safe.
Several counties expanded outside the courthouse to ensure jury trials could continue safely in person. Roggensack said Bayfield County used a high-school gymnasium for voir dire and jury selection, and Marinette County used a movie theater.
Wisconsin has conducted 258 jury trials since the pandemic’s beginnings, Roggensack said, ranging from criminal trials to mental commitments to CHIPS and TPR cases.
“Stated simply, the Wisconsin courts have been open for business,” Roggensack said.
COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the courts efforts to expand e-filing. By Nov. 2, all four Courts of Appeals are accepting voluntary e-filing in all types of cases. Roggensack said more than 320 cases and 1,100 documents have been filed electronically, and the clerk’s office has uploaded an additional 7,200 documents to make those cases fully online.
“The results we have obtained in Wisconsin have far exceeded what other states have accomplished,” Roggensack said.
She cited an opinion piece published in the Los Angles Times on Sept. 7 chiding California courts for failing to respond properly to the pandemic and crediting the Wisconsin judiciary’s work.
“COVID-19 has challenged Wisconsin courts, but through the courage of the women and men who serve in these courts, we have prevailed over COVID,” Roggensack said.Follow @WLJReporter