Nikolas Cruz

South Florida Courthouses Adapt to Virtual Meetings; Serious Criminal Cases Still on Hold

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During a virtual meeting Monday, the Broward County judge overseeing the Nikolas Cruz case expressed concern over the challenges of starting a trial anytime soon.

When it comes to Cruz, the question of whether a trial would be feasible in 2020 has always lingered, and now the pandemic has tossed yet another hurdle at the wheels of justice.

Courts in Broward and Miami-Dade have been conducting thousands of hearings for criminal and civil cases over Zoom ever since courthouses were shut down.

But on Monday, Chief Judge Jack Tuter in Broward told NBC 6 that the biggest challenge has been dealing with criminal cases that involve a serious crime-- like the one involving Cruz.

On Monday, prosecutors along with Nikolas Cruz's defense attorneys were able to handle some administrative duties with Broward Judge Elizabeth Scherer over Zoom.

Cruz was online from inside the Broward County jail.

Even before COVID-19, there was a debate over when Cruz's trial could take place, and now he along with all those charged with serious crimes will have to wait.

“We are all in the same boat here," said Judge Elizabeth Scherer. "I don’t have any idea—I don’t think anybody has any idea when the court house is going to reopen to the public, as far as getting this trial underway or getting motions set."

"The courthouse is closed at least until August 1st," she added.

"Certainly, we want to do everything we can to reduce face to face in that courthouse," said Jude Tutor. She also told NBC 6 that bond court hearings have been done over video calls.

Tuter noted that a major problem has been the lockdown at the jail, which prohibits defense attorneys from seeing their clients except via Zoom.

Despite that, almost 6,000 criminal and civil hearings have been done over Zoom since mid-March, and more than 118,000 people have participated.

“We’re making progress," said Judge Tuter. "We’re on the downside with felony and jury trials but beyond that we’ve been able to keep the dockets moving in virtually every area of the courts."

Miami Dade’s Chief Judge Bertila Soto says after the pandemic, some hearings will stay on Zoom.

“It’s going great,” Soto said. “I think we are going to do a lot of work—like our traffic tickets are going online—dispute resolutions and in addition, people are coming through their traffic through Zoom. I don’t think we will ever go back.“

Miami Dade Courts say they have conducted over 16,000 hearings in all: 9,000 Criminal hearings and 7,000 on the civil side.

As far as Cruz is concerned, the next update for the court will be at the end of August. As to the status of the courthouse then, that’s to be determined.

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