JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The first fully-virtual trial in the United States got underway in Duval County “court” in Jacksonville Thursday morning.
The local judicial circuit was selected for the pilot project, in which every aspect of the civil case -- from jury selection to verdict – takes place remotely.
It will be the first fully virtual trial in Florida, court officials say, and the first trial in the country with a binding verdict. The move to virtual proceedings has been necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has created a backlog of cases in the court system.
“You’re making history today,” Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson told jurors, clearly thrilled to resume jury trials. He noted that “justice had been silenced” at the courthouse in recent months.
“I’m so happy to say ‘good morning’ to you as a jury panel,” he told the first batch of prospective jurors. “I haven’t had that privilege or pleasure since the end of February.”
Anderson warned the first post-COVID-19 jury pool that the virtual Duval County Courthouse would experience technological glitches – and he was right.
Plaintiff’s attorney Matt Kachergus initially struggled to hear juror responses, citing “connectivity issues.” Some jurors struggled to connect to the video courtroom. And an intense afternoon thunderstorm knocked the Zoom court offline for a brief period.
“There was a flash of lighting and some thunder and all of a sudden my Zoom screen went down,” Anderson said when court resumed.
The technical delays pushed court about three hours behind schedule. But given the enormous challenge of creating a virtual courtroom, most participants deemed it a success.
The inaugural virtual trial is an injury liability lawsuit in which Cayla Griffin, a former dancer at Paradise Gentleman’s Club on Baymeadows Road, claims she was beaten and severely injured by two bouncers, suffering facial fractures and broken teeth.
The judge has already determined that the plaintiff was injured by the bouncers and that Paradise Gentleman’s Club is liable for those injuries. All the jury has to decide the is amount of damages she may be due.
Jury selection continues Friday with two more groups of 15. Six jurors and two alternates will ultimately be chosen to serve.
The trial begins Monday and is expected to last one or two days. You can follow a slightly delayed trial feed here.