MIAMI – Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Florida held the state’s first virtual jury selection hearing Thursday on Zoom. It was a civil case about Hurricane Irma-related damage. The dispute was between an insurance company and a homeowner.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko was the trial judge. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer D. Bailey was the trial manager who was tasked with making sure the tech was working.
“The only part of the jury trial on Zoom is going to be this jury selection part,” Butchko said, as her black labrador retriever Zeus barked in the background.
“The best thing to do is just if you can isolate yourself like I just did because I’ve got a big old labrador that is 103 pounds and he is very demanding,” Butchko later said during her instructions.
Butchko also said the session was open to the public, and it was going to serve as a “learning opportunity.”
Miami-Dade County’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit is among the five trial-court circuits across the state chosen to conduct a test of remote technology and report recommendations and findings by Oct. 2.
“The eyes of the country are upon us,” Bailey told the potential jurors.
The National Center for State Courts shared a link to the court’s YouTube channel, which displayed the videos of Thursday’s four jury panels. The YouTube chat included law school students and members of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady suspended jury trials on March 13, and he authorized the use of remote technology in civil jury trials on May 21.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers released a report on June 2 saying the virtual jury selection process “compromises the ability to get up-close and explore potential juror demeanor and bias as expressed through non-verbal communication.”
Despite the concerns, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released a report on June 4 in support of a virtual jury selection process and to help “each court in devising protocols that will minimize the risks to all participants and spectators.”
The process continues in Miami-Dade. For now, Butchko asked jurors to keep an eye on their e-mail for updates from the court.