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Getting to the other side

Barbara L. Jones//June 30, 2021

Getting to the other side

Barbara L. Jones//June 30, 2021

Judge Michelle Lawson (left) and Judge Kathleen Messerich
Judge Michelle Lawson (left) and Judge Kathleen Messerich

On March 13, judges and other court officials held an emergency meeting and concluded that the judiciary had to act and figure out what to do in a pandemic.

That led to the “Other Side” workgroup which planned and implemented procedures to ramp up to address the crisis and also how to ramp down as, it appears, the pandemic is waning.

“We wanted to be able to ease in and out [of restrictions] based on mutations,” 1st Judicial District Chief Judge Kathleen Messerich said at the Minnesota State Bar Association on June 25. The goal was to stop transmission of the virus and also keep the court operational. Judges and court staff were hit by COVID-19 as well as the rest of the population, she noted.

The workgroup held 50 listening sessions across the state to determine what post-pandemic courts should look like. While some advantages to remote hearings emerged from discussion, proper procedures may vary depending on the case and on whether a party is appearing pro se. Remote access is more challenging with a self-represented litigant, Messerich said.

She also noted that lawyers have said that they miss the daily interactions with other lawyers. “It’s really a tough situation for lawyers. Camaraderie is very important.”

Seventh Judicial District Judge Michelle Lawson said that it is undecided whether remote procedures are going to be statewide or within the discretion of individual judges. Different districts have different needs. Some districts share resources such as public defenders and flexibility is going to be essential, she said. The workgroup will made recommendations to the judicial council in July.

Messerich commended the bar for its willingness to help and be flexible. “We showed the world we can pull together. We’re going to get to the other side.”

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