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Pandemic: One year in | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 2:32 PM | By Marcel Strigberger


Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
It’s been one year now since the world was introduced to the coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19 a.k.a. the pandemic. What else can we say?  Happy anniversary? This is a good a time as any to reflect on the changes to the world, especially to the world of law.

Courts

Our court system has been all over the place. Courts were closed, then opened via electronic communication and then for in-person business, somewhat, but with stringent guidelines for admission and operation. Firstly there is the online questionnaire you have to fill out regarding COVID-19 symptoms, having contact with infected persons, or travelled in the last 14 days, etc. You will then get an answer in green such as, “Entry permitted” or in red, such as, “Are you kidding?”

Even if you pass this test you are still subject to additional screening at the courthouse entrance such as the security monitor taking your temperature. I don’t have more detail, but I hear there is also a smell test, given that a loss of sense of smell is a possible virus symptom.  The door monitor can ask you to close your eyes while he dangles before your nose a hunk of Limburger. Personally, I would fear this test more than the virus.

And initially once you did get in, probably the most valuable courthouse resource was the toilet paper.

Juries

Limited jury trials have taken place in some regions and not in others. Many colleagues suggest the pandemic may be the death knell for juries in civil cases. Maybe? I’m not so sure the Magna Carta in 1215 would have raved about juries had its proponents known jurors would have to sit separated from one another by plexiglass. 

The jury pool consists of residents who show up after receiving a letter from the sheriff demanding they so attend, at virtually no pay (and certainly not at their convenience). The letter notes that the lucky recipients can write back explaining why they want an exemption. Reasons for exemptions include disabilities, criminal background, or certain occupations such as being a sheriff. Now isn’t that a job to die for!

It would be a nice gesture if potential jurors would at least be given high priority to the vaccine. After all, you might say they are part of the justice system’s “first responders.” For that matter don’t forget the lawyers.

Technology

Three technological advances changed the legal world in 2020: Zoom, Zoom and Zoom.

Though I am no longer in practice, I do Zoom here and there or try to with frustration, given my psychological condition; I’m a clinical technophobe. Apple and Google are out to get me. I get messages such as, “forgot your password?” but I don’t see an option to say, “No I did not forget; I am entering it correctly. You guys are jerking me around.  A plague on you.”

Sometimes I have to confirm that I am not a robot. What bothers me most is that I am probably dealing with a robot to start with. I now have to confirm that I am not one of him. 

Nor is Zoom perfect. We have all heard of accidental instances where unwanted sounds come out or parties are seen smoking cigars or compromised seated comfortably in the smallest room in their house. And just recently that Texas lawyer appeared through video filters looking like a puddy tat. Meow. At least he agreed he imported some humour, making lawyers appear more human.

Some parties as well have been known to wear a jacket and tie but no pants. I wonder if Zoom becomes a new normal, the haberdashery industry will change and come up with one-piece suits. Will it adapt and follow suit? (No apology offered!)

They’ll have to come with a caution. “Warning. This suit is for Zoom purposes only. Not designed for complete coverage. Remember not to wear by itself when leaving your house.”

I am also visualizing that iconic lynch mob scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, where Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) stands between the angry mob and his client, talking them out of storming the jailhouse. Would that scene play out differently during a pandemic? A Zoom lynch mob?

MOB: Atticus Finch, hand over your client.

ATTICUS: Go home now, or I’ll mute you all.

I am also thinking about Charles Holland Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. patent office in 1899. Duell's most famous attributed utterance is that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Yikes, I would not have gone to him to have my palm read. You might say this guy was not exactly Nostradamus.

Interestingly, Charles Holland Duell later became Justice Duell, an associate judge of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.   

I’d just love to see the look on Duell’s face wherever he might be now. I wouldn’t want to actually go there of course. I am talking seeing that look on his face from my present location, via Zoom, naturally.  

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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