Hearings delayed as Alpena court adjusts to new technology

ALPENA — Twenty-some hearings scheduled for Monday in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court were postponed as the court adjusted to new technology made necessary as people keep their distance to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Courts statewide have been converting to hearings via videoconference, with licenses to the online platform Zoom available to every judge in the state.

The 26th Circuit Court wasn’t quite ready to go live with Zoom, according to Chief Judge Benjamin Bolser, and the decision was announced Friday that Monday’s hearings would be postponed.

If attorneys all are available and the technology can be worked out, the hearings may be held yet this week, Bolser said Monday. The public will not be allowed to join the hearings via Zoom, but the day’s docket will be livestreamed on YouTube.

“We’ve got to get ramped up and rolling,” said Bolser.

As of Monday, one case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was reported in Presque Isle County, and zero cases were reported in Alpena, Montmorency, and Alcona counties. Statewide, more than 17,000 cases and 700 deaths have been reported.

In Montmorency County, Zoom has been used for hearings for quite some time, according to Bolser, with attorneys joining the courtroom on screen instead of making the drive to the courthouse in the highly rural county.

At hearings in other local courtrooms last week, the public was allowed to be present as a Zoom participant. With that platform’s limitations in numbers of participants, and with the ability for a non-court participant to cause disruption by “Zoom-bombing,” or hacking or otherwise disrupting a Zoom meeting, the Michigan Supreme Court has proposed other ways to ensure court openness.

Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack sent a letter to chief judges and court administrators last week, offering instructions for creating a YouTube channel and livestreaming court hearings.

Regardless of the technology used, it’s important that the work of courts move forward, Bolser said.

“We can’t allow these things to just linger out there forever,” Bolser said. “We’ve got to get these them handled for the good of families.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.


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