Massachusetts Appeals Court Moves to Phone Arguments

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From a letter dated last Friday:

To minimize and allay concern about exposure to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the Appeals Court is hereby ordering that all panel and single justice cases scheduled for oral argument during the remainder of March 2020, including those on March 16, 17, 19, and 23, 2020, will be held by telephone….

The Court plans to record all telephone arguments and make them available on https://www.ma-appellatecourts.org/docket

Sounds like a good plan; I think it would be even better to do it by video, but I take it that the court thought that the technologically simpler solution was the better bet, at least for now. Thanks to Max Bauer for the pointer.

NEXT: Are We Battling an Unprecedented Pandemic or Panicking at a Computer-Generated Mirage?

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  1. All conferences and arguments should be done by video. Having to show up only serves the vanity of judges and counsel, and is a huge time-suck.

    1. It does, however, serve as a check on intoxicated lawyers — it’s harder to tell if one is intoxicated in a telephone call than in person — and I wonder if that will be a problem.

  2. The plan can hardly be characterized as “good” to the extent that it is driven by fear and panic.

    1. (1) Reacting based on fear is often perfectly sensible. Indeed, ignoring well-founded fears is generally not a good plan.

      (2) “Panic” generally refers to unreasoned reaction stemming from unreasonable fear. But, when it’s not clear what to do, erring on the side of caution may be quite reasonable especially when the downside of the error is small. Switching to phone arguments costs little to the legal system: It may make oral arguments somewhat less helpful to judges, but written briefing is already much more important than oral argument (at least at the appellate level), so some loss of efficiency of oral argument isn’t a big deal. And it actually saves time and money for lawyers and clients (it would save even more in physically larger jurisdictions, such as Texas or the Ninth Circuit). So on balance, this seems like a pretty sound response.

  3. The Utah Court of Appeals is now conducting all essential oral arguments via video. I assumed that most appellate courts across the country were doing the same.

  4. The interesting part is the keeping of what (I presume) is a public record of the oral argument. This would both increase public access to the courts and eliminate the need of third-party attorneys to physically attend these arguments. Both they and interested reporters can now listen to the recording at their leisure.

    And intrepid reporters can “cherry pick” the occasional intemperate statements of judges, particularly when they are appointed to higher benches.

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