COVID taught us our courts are surprisingly nimble….
We all know that change doesn’t come easy to the courts. It takes a great deal of deliberation, and a great deal of time. And, time was something no court had when the pandemic hit our region in March 2020. COVID forced the courts to rethink the administration of justice and what it means to access it. It demanded that we move quickly from thought to action. And, we did. We shifted our courts from in-person to virtual hearings almost overnight, and learned firsthand that necessity is truly the mother of invention.
Luckily, we had the foundation of our decade-long investment in technology infrastructure to build upon, but that base didn’t include guideposts to follow. We were in uncharted territory and the only way we were able to quickly navigate and enact these changes was through the dedication and grit of everyone at the Ninth Circuit. Judges retooled processes and procedures. IT staff upgraded courtroom systems to meet the new demands and trained staff on technology. Judicial assistants managed the frontlines, handling a constantly changing docket and helping parties virtually access the courts. Everyone pitched in, putting in long hours and hard work – the results of which are literally outstanding. Over the past 14 months, the Ninth Circuit conducted nearly 240,000 virtual hearings. A phenomenal feat for a system entrenched in tradition and reluctant to change.
…and remarkably resilient
The pandemic made everything harder. It’s harder to prepare for court when court is all of a sudden virtual and everyone needs to learn new processes and protocols while also learning the technology. It’s harder to do the work of the courts when traditional systems like education and transportation are upended. It’s harder to manage the emotional burden of the work when just living day to day now carries a heavy emotional toll. And, despite everything the pandemic threw our way, the courts matched its relentless intensity with remarkable resilience. The work of the courts continued. Day in and day out, our judges, staff, judicial assistants, court administrators, lawyers, and legal professionals put aside all of the stress and strain of living through these times and showed up for the work and for the people in our community who needed the courts to provide a peaceful resolution to their disputes.
…and there are helpers everywhere.
Everyone knows the famous quote from Mister Rogers – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things happen in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” We’ve always known this to be true, but COVID taught us that the helpers are everywhere.
In a time of increasing isolation and separation, the Ninth Circuit was never alone in its struggle to navigate the uncharted waters of this pandemic. There wasn’t a day over these past 14 months when the courts didn’t lean on support from Orange and Osceola County governments, from the local Bar associations and legal community, from medical and security experts, or from our fellow circuits throughout the state. The capable hands of all these helpers kept our court community safe and the work of the courts going during a time when so much of the world was at a standstill. Regardless of the ask or challenge, everyone always responded yes, how can we help. We never had to look for the helpers – they were and continue to be with us every step of the way. That has been the greatest lesson COVID taught us. And, we are grateful for all your help.