COVID-19 and the Legal System
The world-wide COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt more lives in the weeks and months ahead. In the legal realm, COVID-19’s most noticeable effect will be in the rescheduling of many court hearings. This is developing news, and as of now all federal and Missouri state courts (including those in Boone County) have suspended most in-person hearings. These cases either have or shortly will be rescheduled:
- Civil jury trials
- Criminal jury trials
- Hearings on larger dockets
- Hearings not required within a statutory timeline
Importantly, please know that we are constantly checking with the courts and will update each of our clients as soon as we know about your case.
Court in the cloud. For some of our clients, I have already filed motions for expedited hearings using currently existing technology such as Polycom devices (already present in Boone County), and just plain old telephone conferences. ALL JUDGES have the authority to conduct most hearings in this fashion, and most of them will for non-evidentiary matters.
Advanced procedures. As our clients know, Pingelton Law Firm has for years utilized several procedures that were designed to increase efficiency in the practice of law. State-of-the-art computerized legal research is something most clients don’t see but benefit from every day. Many of our clients are familiar with the option of using a telephone conference in lieu of an in-person appointment for regular status updates and Q&A exchanges. Clients like this option, and in the coming weeks and months of COVID-19 we’ll use phone and Zoom conferences more often than usual.
New cases continue. We are also going to offer telephone appointments for new clients so that we can start working on your case right away. Even before the courts implement new COVID-19 procedures, we can utilize existing technology and e-filing to have every kind of case we handle well on the road to resolution without being held hostage to social distancing, sheltering in place, and court continuances. In fact, I expect several pending and new cases to be completed within their designated timeframe pursuant to current court time standards even before those are adjusted for COVID-19. Pingelton Law Firm has already received new hearing dates in several cases, and I expect this healthy response by our court systems to continue. For many of you, it will be business as usual (although our handshakes might be replaced with elbow-bumps for a few months).
Impetus for court automation. One small silver lining in all of this may be that courts around the country will adopt long-needed procedures to hold many hearings by teleconference or video appearance. Many lawyers, especially those who practice regionally such as Pingelton Law Firm, have been suggesting this for years. Clients like it because everyone saves time and money. (Several years ago we completed an entire case online through summary judgment, having never set foot in the courthouse. The client was pleased.)
Personal appearances guaranteed. Of course for evidentiary hearings and trials, courts will make accommodations in the months ahead to ensure all persons are afforded their constitutional right to have their cases decided fairly in a court of law. When we need to see you in person, you will always be welcomed to come in, have the best espresso in Missouri with one of the best views in Columbia; and for the next few months we’ll have a basket of hand sanitizers for whoever wants one.
The bottom line for our clients. Here’s my take:
- Most of our clients with active litigation will experience modest delays in their cases.
- Our clients who are not involved in litigation (e.g., education law cases, estate and business planning; transactional matters) will experience no or very short delays.
- Our clients who are currently in the appellate process should experience no delays unless a court appearance for oral argument is indicated or requested by the court.
- NONE of our clients will suffer permanent prejudice by any COVID-19 delay or judicial system failure in handling things. I guarantee you that I will not let that happen. I expect our historically excellent results to continue, even if we have to wait a little longer than average in some cases.
So please avoid crowds for now. Cover your nose & mouth if you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands a lot. Stay healthy. See a doctor if you don’t feel well. And call or e-mail us anytime.
Important COVID-19 links:
Center for Disease Control
National Institute of Health