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Portrait of Chief Justice Lorie Gildea
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, shown in this 2017 file photo, says the success of remote access, made necessary by the pandemic, has yielded ideas for embracing technology going forward. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Court emerges ‘stronger than ever’

Chief Justice Gildea: Pandemic taught valuable lessons

It’s said that one should never waste a good crisis, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch didn’t.

That’s the message from Chief Justice Lorie Gildea in her State of the Judiciary address to the Minnesota State Bar Association convention on June 24 — virtual, of course.

“We have fulfilled our constitutional duties each and every day of the pandemic. We have learned lessons to build a stronger court system,” she said.

District Court hearings continued between July 2020 and May 2021 although most were remote. Since the beginning of 2021, 93% of hearings have been remote, Gildea said.

Increased access

The lesson learned: Remote access to online hearings not only works, but it also may be preferable. Surveys of judges, court staff, attorneys, justice partners and litigants revealed two common themes: The use of remote court hearings increases access to justice, and remote hearings should continue to be used — to some extent — after the pandemic.

The benefits were reduced travel time and costs, more reliable scheduling, easier attendance for clients, health and safety, and victim participation. Prosecutors and public defenders want to continue remote hearings for uncontested cases. Litigants also prefer remote hearings, citing travel, work and child care as reasons.

The Minnesota Judicial Council will hear recommendations from the “Other Side” workgroup in July, Gildea said. There has been a statewide effort to determine the right balance of remote and in-person hearings. The workgroup has held 50 listening sessions with judges, staff, attorneys and court users and is preparing a report to the council.

Technological innovation

The next lesson, Gildea continued, is the importance of technological innovation. Even as the pandemic loosens its grip, the efficiency afforded by technology is important. Innovations in the last year include Hearing eReminders and online public defender application.

The big lift for the courts for years has been providing online access to District Courts’ records and documents. The first phase of Minnesota Court Records Online (MCRO) launched on March 17, and “nobody was happier than I,” Gildea said. Right now users need a case number to search, but more search options are planned. By the end of 2021 it should be possible to search by name. A fee will be introduced in 2022. More online services should arrive in the future.

Essential role of legal assistance

The state set a record for calls to its self-help hotlines during the pandemic. The judicial branch, MSBA and civil legal aid have established a new pro bono opportunity called Layers Step Up for Minnesota, available at It is intended to make it easier for attorneys to volunteer. “This is the perfect opportunity for you,” Gildea said. A push of the button on the website and a few questions later, and you’re directed to a couple of organizations that would appreciate your interest.

Also launched in March was the Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project. It is intended to allow paraprofessionals, under supervision, to work on landlord tenant and family law disputes. The pilot project will last until March 2023.

The chief justice called out to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers,, which provides assistance for any condition that negatively affects the quality of one’s life at work or at home. During the pandemic, “challenges to attorney wellbeing have only increased,” the chief justice said.

Gildea also announced a 3.1% increase in registration fees to support LCL. The court will also implement 3% increases in 2022 and 2023 to support the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

The court also asked for the bar’s help in addressing attorney succession planning perhaps by preparing a handbook for finding volunteers to help a family or law firm handle a lawyer’s practice.

Public trust and confidence

The court gained valuable experience with cameras and livestreaming during the pandemic, and has asked the Advisory Committee for the Rules of Criminal Procedure to consider expanding the current rules regarding cameras. A report is due July 1, 2022.

The court’s committee for equality and justice is continuing its work on educating jurors on implicit bias and expanding community outreach. It has several plans on its plate for 2022 including jury diversity and disparities in probation revocations.

Having come through a crisis “the court is emerging stronger than ever, thanks to the bar and other allies,” Gildea concluded. “I’m looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for everything you have done and will do.”

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