The Connecticut Judicial Branch is to be commended for conducting court business using alternatives to in-person appearances since March of last year, when most of the state’s 30 courtrooms were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. And, after spending some $2.8 million on technology to enable remote court sessions, things are now slowly getting back to something like normal.
“There is a recognition among all of our judges and Judicial Branch employees that we have a duty to take all steps necessary to process the business of the court and provide meaningful access to justice during the pandemic,” Judge Patrick Carroll, the chief court administrator, told the Hartford Courant.
Only the most pressing cases continued in a handful of still-open courthouses, such as cases involving domestic abuse or the welfare of a child.
There is a considerable backlog, with the number of pending criminal and motor vehicle cases nearly double what it was a year ago. But on May 17 operations will be resuming at courthouses in Derby, New London, Manchester, Putnam and (for juvenile matters) Rockville.
The most problematic exception to that trend is that no one seems to know when jury trials will be able to resume, which means that a right that’s guaranteed under both the state and federal constitutions is still, in effect, suspended.
This needs to change. As the pandemic continues to be managed, and as more and more people get vaccinated, and as the governor continues to lift restrictions imposed during the pandemic, we are hopeful that the court system in this state is heading toward full operation again, including jury trials.
In theory, each of us deserves his or her day in court — that is, “meaningful access to justice” — and the state must bring back that right, in reality, just as soon as it is safe to do so.