Many spokes on the wheels of justice have come to a screeching halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Monday they were turning again in Miami-Dade as the first jury trial in a year got underway.
The trial was done over Zoom after Florida’s highest court gave it the green light.
The judge and technical teams for the court were inside the courthouse but potential jurors on Monday didn’t have to sit in traffic and drive there, they were at home on their smart phones and computers.
Miami-Dade County Court Judge Milena Abreu had a lot more to do than make rulings about the law. She also had to guide members of the jury pool on how to use Zoom on their smart devices.
Monday's trial was to settle an insurance dispute that started way back in 2012. The people involved in the disagreement, their attorneys, and the potential jurors were spread all across Miami-Dade.
Judge Abreu told them they were part of history.
"I am very happy to report that all of you are the very first jurors in the entire county who are doing jury selection after an entire year of having no jury trials, so you are our first panel,” she said.
The Zoom trials are a way to bring those who have sued some justice after the the courthouses have been shutdown.
"As you know the courts is just one of the agencies that have been physically closed due to the pandemic. We received approval based on all of the Covid safety protocols that the courts have implemented in court, we have received approval to resume jury trials and today is the first day of our ability to resume jury trial,” Abreu told the potential jurors.
The clerk of court, Harvey Ruvin, set up a program where residents could register for their jury duty from home.
"When people registered in the on-line system, they were more likely to come in for jury service,” said Judge Nushin Sayfie, recently chosen to be the next chief judge for Miami-Dade.
Sayfie said that when the jurors are picked they will come to the courthouse and will be outside of the staff and participants in the trials, pretty much the only people in the building.
"We have bailiffs that are going to be greeting jurors, making sure they stay paced apart. We have those big colorful dots telling people where to stand," Sayfie said.
There is plenty of plexiglass up at the courthouse, and the bathrooms and other public areas are getting a deep cleaning each day.
The plan is to have two of the trials going on the courthouse in downtown Miami Tuesday. They will be on different floors to keep more separation.
Sayfie said that the use of Zoom to get more jurors to participate is something positive that has come out of how the court is working to get the people involved in these lawsuits a final resolution despite the pandemic.
Sayfie said the court will implement some of what they have learned from using the technology to conduct thousands of hearings over the last year and now a jury trial.
"The one thing that we’ve learned over the course of the last year is that we can be accessible to Miami-Dade residents in a way that we never were before and I am hopeful that when Covid is over that there are some things we will continue to do to make it easier for people to have access to the court system," Sayfie said.
The lead judge in Broward, Jack Tuter, said that his system has conducted thousands of hearings too over Zoom and in April the first trial could take place there.