Stetson Law Review
How might dispute resolution processes for civil matters conducted on video conferencing be designed to reduce racial justice inequities and increase Black participants’ sense of procedural justice? In March 2020, responding to Covid-19 pandemic health concerns, all in-person, court-connected, and private dispute resolution processes shifted to video conferencing. Proponents of video conferencing have long touted how video conferencing would increase access to justice by providing an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving alternative to in-person appearances. An unexplored question in March 2020 was how video conferencing would affect racial justice inequities. Black individuals and other marginalized groups were already disproportionately suffering from the scourge of Covid-19, more vulnerable because of the structural inequities they endure in health care, employment, and housing. Contributing to the urgency of this inquiry, the video looping of George Floyd’s May 15, 2020, murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin amplified the historical exigency for racial justice equity and reinforced state courts’ long-standing commitment to justice equity.
In the July 2020 joint Conference of Chief Justices (“CCJ”) and the Conference of State Court Administrator (“COSCA”), they pledged to:
continue and intensify our efforts to combat racial prejudice within the justice system, both explicit and implicit, and to recommit ourselves to examine what systemic change is needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all, so that the justice we provide not only is fair to all but also is recognized by all to be fair.
On July 16, 2020, the CCJ and COSCA memorialized their commitment in a joint report titled “Guiding Principles for Post-Pandemic Technology,” recognizing that this unprecedented shift to remote use also provided a welcome opportunity for courts to strengthen racial justice equities. The report prescribed six guiding principles:
1. Ensure principles of due process, procedural fairness, transparency, and equal access are satisfied when adopting new technologies.
2. Focus on the user experience.
3. Prioritize court-user driven technology.
4. Embrace flexibility and willingness to adapt.
5. Adopt remote-first (or at least remote-friendly) planning, where practicable, to move court processes forward.
6. Take an open, data-driven, and transparent approach to implementing and maintaining court processes and supporting technologies.
We now fast forward to the spring of 2022 as Covid-19 concerns are abating and we are trying to discern the parameters of the “new normal.” Respected legal prognosticators believe that video conferencing will remain a preferred mode of conducting dispute resolution processes because of its time-saving and cost-saving benefits. Nationally, state courts continue to conduct dispute resolution processes on video conferencing. Yet, we are still in the embryonic stage of learning about how dispute resolution processes conducted via video conference might advance racial justice equity outcomes. The sheer volume of cases conducted on video conferencing during the pandemic provides an unanticipated opportunity to begin examining how dispute resolution processes conducted on video conferencing are affecting racial justice inequities.