In March 2020, Governor Lujan Grisham justifiably closed the entire state over concerns due to Covid-19. In July 2021, she fully reopened the state for business. Everything reopened for in-person business, except the courts. Even now, with the latest variant tearing through the population, the state has remained open. Except the courts. To ensure the safety of patrons, schools, businesses, and hospitals are either requiring masks or vaccinations, or both. Yet, the courts are still not open. That needs to change.
How Long Have Courts Been Closed?
For the past 510 or so days, nearly all courthouse appearances have been conducted by telephone; some, through Google Meets. And early on during the pandemic, it was a truly herculean effort for the courts to integrate these new systems into place to conduct any hearings. However, when the state reopened in July, and the courthouse staff started setting hearings to be completed in person, they were notified that court hearings would not be allowed to be conducted in person, except in certain limited cases.
None of these cases involved divorce or custody cases which continue to be conducted primarily by telephone. Some hearings truly do not require in-person hearings. Pre-trial hearings, procedural hearings, anything not requiring evidence or testimony can easily be held, and should be held, by phone, Google, or Zoom.
However, cases require testimony, and evidence should never be held by phone alone. Why? Phone hearings simply do not allow justice to be fully served because Court hearings depend on truth and protocol.
Why Should Courts Reopen?
Our cases are based substantially upon getting to the root of the problem, whether that be who should be awarded custody of the children or possession of the house. Who has been caring for the children, who is more available for the children, who can afford the house payment? To get to the root of the matter, we question the respective parties. The decision is based, in part, on the truthfulness of the answers.
Truth is substantially more difficult to ascertain by phone than in person. Both the judge and I rely on facial expressions from the person being called to testify. Is the person sweating, smiling, crying? This is as vitally important to the case as the evidence itself. There is a lot of non-truth, also known as LIES. But again, such is difficult to decipher without in-person appearances and questioning. There is a certain amount of pressure that being in court and sitting in front of a judge presents. That is why it has been done this way for hundreds of years.
Without that pressure, I fear, truth is being lost. Not only is truth vitally important for court hearings to be successful, protocol is also a necessity. People dress up, which implies a certain level of seriousness. Court is serious. That seriousness leads to success of the entire process. During phone hearings, people are whispering, passing notes, getting assistance in answering questions. There is no longer any integrity to the process. Lawyers and attorneys are comfortable sitting in their armchairs in their pajamas while homeschooling their children. Without pressure, cases do not settle.
We are not serving our clients well in the process. I am certainly not opposed and strongly support court appearances by phone for short procedural hearings, especially those out of town. We do our clients a great disservice by driving to Gallup for a 15-minute hearing. But evidentiary hearings must return to being conducted in person for the integrity of the entire process.
At Sandia Family Law, we fight for you every step of the way, including procedurally. We fight for your rights inside and outside the courtroom to ensure your legal process is fair and fought in the best manner possible for you. Contact us online or via phone at (505) 544-5126 to schedule a consultation with our team.
Disclaimer: This blog was previously printed in the Albuquerque Journal in substantially the same form earlier this month.