King County, Washington, was ground zero for the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The Washington State Supreme Court suspended most court operations in all courts on March 18, 2020. Acknowledging access to justice is of critical importance, King County Superior Court (KCSC) leadership vowed to continue to hold matters on all case types, including jury trials, at the earliest time possible.
With adapted operational procedures, new court technology, a public health plan, and legal community support, KCSC held over 300 jury trials, 1,000 bench trials, and countless hearings between July 2020 and December 2021.
Evaluating and institutionalizing best practices initiated during the crisis. In October 2020, KCSC was awarded a SJI Pandemic Response and Recovery Grant to 1) develop a values-based evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness and impact of pandemic implemented new practices; and 2) use the results to inform and/or shape future court policy, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the court, and ensure new service delivery approaches and innovative practices were refined and normalized post-pandemic.
Under the expert guidance of Dr. Brenda Wagenknecht-Ivey, KCSC’s project spanned 19 months and included workshops, focus groups, and surveys. From a lengthy list of new practices implemented during the pandemic, three were selected for evaluation:
- Virtual court proceedings including virtual interpreting and electronic exhibits
- Virtual jury selection
- Remote work (excluding courtroom personnel)
Check out the findings and recommendations from this study. KCSC’s experiences may help shape the future of virtual processes and practices in your Court.