The COVID-19 pandemic presented Nevada’s courts with the extraordinary challenge of maintaining access to justice while courthouses were closed. This challenge was addressed by adopting virtual technology to conduct remote hearings; I commend our courts and attorneys for the efforts put forth in embracing this technology. Although the pandemic created chaos and uncertainties for the judicial process, it ushered in the widespread use of virtual advocacy in our courts. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, members of Nevada’s judiciary and the State Bar of Nevada have expressed interest in the continued use of virtual advocacy. Thus, one silver lining to the pandemic is that it may lead to uniform procedures and protocols.
In August 2021, the Nevada Supreme Court created a Commission to Study Best Practices for Virtual Advocacy in Nevada’s Courts (the Commission). The Commission is charged with evaluating rules governing the unified use of remote technology in Nevada’s limited and general jurisdiction courts. It is also considering rule changes to facilitate remote hearings in criminal, civil, and family law cases. My colleagues, Justices James Hardesty and Douglas Herndon, are the co-chairs of the Commission, serving alongside other distinguished judges, attorneys, and IT professionals.
The Commission has the momentous task of studying the concerns that arise with the adoption of virtual technology. Although I cannot summarize all the Commission’s work in this article, I hope to highlight facets of the study that may be of particular interest. Among these are administrative, legal, and public-policy concerns that inhere in the implementation of virtual technology.
In the administrative context, the Commission is studying how virtual advocacy may impact the courts, including whether remote hearings will alleviate court backlogs, increase judicial efficiency, or expand access to justice. The Commission must also study what equipment, software, and staffing courts will need to adopt remote-hearing platforms, and the impact the adoption of this technology will have on court budgets. Finally, the Commission must also consider whether uniform procedures can cohere in Nevada’s rural and populous courts.
The Commission must likewise consider a wide range of legal concerns in the remote-hearing context. Chiefly, the Commission is determining which types of hearings should be conducted virtually. Broadly guiding this analysis are considerations of witness testimony, the presentation of digital evidence, and the convenience of virtual courtroom appearances. Given constitutional or pragmatic considerations, some types of hearings are more properly conducted traditionally in the courtroom.
Finally, the Commission is studying public-policy concerns and the benefits that remote hearings may have for members of the public. Perhaps the most compelling justification for the continued use of remote hearings is that they promote access to justice by reducing litigation costs and increasing judicial efficiency, which undoubtedly benefits the public.
It is my hope that the adversity created by the pandemic leads to uniform procedures that will benefit our courts, attorneys, and the public. The Commission will issue a report and recommendations by October 31, 2022, which I look forward to receiving.
About this article: This article was originally published in the “Cyber Law” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (October 2022). See https://clarkcountybar.org/member-benefits/communique-2022/communique-october-2022/.
About the author
Justice Ron Parraguirre is serving his third term as Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. He begins his fourth term on the state’s highest court in January 2023.
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