Bench Trials Gaining Popularity in Texas Amid Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all Americans to live life differently, and in ways they never imagined. Employees are working from home, students are learning at home through digital methods, and restaurants have closed their dining rooms. The same is true for the legal system, courts, judges, and Austin criminal defense lawyers. Meeting in a courtroom in person can raise the risk of the coronavirus spreading and put an even greater strain on the already burdened healthcare system. As such, many judges are finding alternative ways to keep the justice system moving, such as holding bench trials via video conference.

First Houston Zoom Trial Conducted

In late March 2020, Texas judges began utilizing Zoom for hearings for criminal and civil cases. However, using the same type of technology to conduct an entire trial is something that has not been done until recently. This is not the first Zoom trial in Texas, as several bench trials have already been held throughout the state.

Judge Beau Miller of Harris County’s 190th Civil District Court was one of the pioneers when he became the first Houston judge to hold a trial by video. The trial was live-streamed in order to allow the public access. Judge Miller believes that the goal of resolving cases in an efficient manner remains even under these unprecedented circumstances. He also said many of his judicial colleagues have become interested in following in his footsteps.

The Test Case

Ahmed v. Texas Fair Plan Association, an insurance dispute, became the test case for Houston Zoom trials. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant unfairly refused to pay or underpaid his claim for storm damage his Spring, TX, home sustained. While both sides were able to agree on an appraisal, the issue at hand is how much the insurance carrier should pay in almost $100,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiff.

It’s important to note that in this case, both the plaintiff and defendant agreed to the Zoom trial, and their trial exhibits had already been submitted. Since the damages sought were relatively small, the plaintiff agreed to the trial going forward via Zoom. Lawyers for both sides agreed to the Zoom trial so that the case could keep moving forward. Although he was excited to be one of the first lawyers to participate in a Zoom trial, John Black, co-counsel for the plaintiff, feels strongly that being in the courtroom is an art. He hopes that video conferencing does not become the norm going forward.

Protect Your Rights with Skilled Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers 

Your criminal case has likely experienced some delays and changes related to the COVID-19 crisis. Even still, you have a right to a fair and speedy trial under the United States Constitution. When you hire experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers, you can be assured that everything is being done to ensure your legal rights. If necessary, we can discuss the pros and cons of using video conferencing as a way of conducting your trial. Contact Granger and Mueller PC today to schedule your free and confidential consultation.