Heard from Afar: Supreme Court Convenes in Isolation
By Csaba Sukosd | April 30, 2020
The Ohio Supreme Court achieved a technological breakthrough this week by conducting a second round of oral arguments remotely.
Adhering to social distancing protocols to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the seven justices teleconferenced on back-to-back mornings from their chambers at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center and from home offices. A visiting judge joined the Supreme Court to hear one of the disputes, and she participated in the case from her home.
The attorneys who argued the seven cases took part from offices across the state.
"I feel really fortunate that we have the internet right now, and it's working, because it's so easy to communicate virtually," said Liesl Bonneau, who directs the Supreme Court oral argument broadcasts on behalf of Ohio Government Television.
Instead of being in the same courtroom, the livestream participants shared what equated to a video chat room through a video teleconference service.
The justices also held oral arguments over two days earlier this month, the first time the Court had administered a virtual session.
Running live, cyber sessions and programming is nothing new to the Court staff, which produces online courses and webinars for several of the organization's departments.
Michael Woods, a judicial services analyst at the Court, has coordinated scores of those projects in his nearly eight years with the institution. Some sessions have had 500 virtual attendees.
This week, Woods and the Court's information technology (IT) staff were tasked with assisting the justices for the remote arguments. They also prepared for a variety of potential external obstacles from the other participants, and outside factors.
"Everybody has a different type of computer, different type of operating system, different networks, different internet speeds that they're paying for at home," Woods said.
With two sessions' worth of experience, the Court and its personnel will look to build upon that base for future hearings since this format could be a new normal for oral arguments during the pandemic.
"There's a lot of hands behind the scenes, a lot of people making that successful, and thankfully, we have a lot of good people, and a good team doing that," said Robert Stuart, the Court's IT director.