In response to the “unprecedented situation” that is the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton effectively closed the state’s court system on March 14. Unfortunately—and unavoidably—this judicial emergency has led to an immense backlog of cases waiting to be litigated and tried—a position in which most of the country now finds itself. In response, some states are considering the prospect of conducting virtual jury trials for civil cases, with the states of Texas and Florida having already taken concrete steps toward potentially implementing such a system. While we appreciate these states’ willingness to experiment with possible solutions to the ever-growing caseload crisis, virtual jury trials are not a viable replacement for the traditional, in-person model. To understand why, it is important that we look not only look to what is occurring in the courts but also to what is happening in the streets and our communities.
Anti-racism protests have spread throughout the country, causing a huge majority of Americans to scrutinize how governments provide equality under the law to everyone. Much of that attention has been squarely and rightly focused on Georgia, bringing to light issues that those of us working within the legal community have long been aware. One such issue is the difficulty of ensuring juries represent a diverse and inclusive cross-section of the community—a standard of justice that the people of Georgia are calling for their state to meet. And the state and our courts should want to meet this challenge. Research shows that diverse teams tend to make better decisions, resulting in better outcomes for those involved. In other words, it is in the state’s own interest to prioritize jury inclusivity and the more just resolutions that would result. Yet when thinking through what a virtual jury system would look like in Georgia, indicators point to a scenario where diversity and inclusion would be relegated to the side for the sake of expediency.
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