Each court is handling the pandemic in their own way. Some courts are continuing on as if nothing has changed. Other courts are delayed by months and struggling with the issues that Covid has left us with. In general, we see that courts are nearly back to normal, with the exception of the following:
Trials being cancelled with no end in sight. Most courts have done several trials since Covid began, but not the number that they used to. Many courts continue to cancel trials due to an outbreak of cases or the unavailability of potential jurors. Some courts have a significant number of trials scheduled and ti could take years for them to catch up with the case load. The courts are doing the best that they can, but due to the circumstances many defendants are paying the price in waiting years for their case to resolve.
Court rules require a criminal trial within 90 days and a hearing for infractions within 120 days. They days have always been changes to longer due to continuance request from the defense for any number of reasons. Case law also allows courts some flexibility for court congestion. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Washington Supreme Court made a change to allow local courts the ability to change these rules, as many other rules, due to the pandemic. Many courts are still relying on this ruling in order to take much longer than the 90/120 days to hear cases. Some courts have tried to get creative; even splitting the courtroom into several different rooms in order to allow social distancing.
Masks are required in Washington and most courts are enforcing this. One court has even decided to fine people $100 if they are not wearing their mask properly.
Most courts are allowing appearances by computer or phone. We see very few courts requiring personal appearances, but Lower Kittitas is one of them. Lower Kittitas does not allow virtual appearances on any case, unless a motion is filed asking for a remote appearance and a very good reason why. They are not granted often with this court.
Typically, a request for virtual hearing is required, but liberally granted. Appearance by phone is not as common as Zoom or WebEx, because most courts want to see the parties and not just hear their voices. We expect this to continue for the foreseeable future and many courts have already informed us that they will continue to use these tools.
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