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Bexar County judge conducts court hearings from home

Remote hearings conducted electronically due to COVID-19 pandemic

SAN ANTONIO – As he prepared to begin a hearing in a Specialty Court case, County Court at Law No. 11 Judge Tommy Stolhandske went on the record Tuesday morning with a statement that could well dictate how some misdemeanor cases are handled In the future.

“I have a live feed in the courtroom, are both sides satisfied that this meets the requirements of open courts?” he said as he looked at a computer screen in front of him.

On the split screen were images of a prosecutor, a defendant, her attorneys and a court reporter.

“It’s a whole new world, a whole new way of doing things,” Stolhandske said as he sat at his computer at home.

And he’s OK with it.

“It’s good for us to have something to get up and get into our routine and keep working and keep moving forward,” Stolhandske said. “I’ve got a job to do and I want to keep these cases moving as best I can.”

Judges addressing coronavirus issue in their courtrooms

The remote hearings are aimed at keeping the criminal justice system from completely shutting down as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals put out several emergency orders allowing us to conduct business this way,” he explained. “Not only allowing, but encouraging us and telling us to do it.”

Stolhandske said there is a learning curve in play that involves every element of court proceedings and so far, with the exception of some minor kinks, it’s working remarkably well.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

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