Texas appeals court makes history with remote oral arguments

Virtual change is the result of social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19

AUSTIN – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments this week outside of the court's cavernous courtroom.

“Surreal, nothing to compare it to,” said Judge Bert Richardson, a member of the court.

Instead of appearing before the nine-member court in person, attorneys made their arguments remotely on a TV screen, with their images appearing along with the judges.

“I think the lawyers find it a little bit more comfortable because they’re not standing in front of nine judges,” Richardson said. “They’re in the comfort of their own office or their own home.”

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Richardson said his colleagues on the court are also settling into this new way of conducting legal business.

“After one more round of this, we’ll be quite comfortable doing it,” Richardson said. “I don’t see any downside at all.”

Still, he said, they’re losing the familiar courtroom "feel."

“It’s nice being in the courtroom and nice being with the lawyers,” Richardson said. “But everybody’s mindful of the fact that these are unusual times for us.”

Debrief: How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the criminal justice system in Bexar County, Texas

About the Authors:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.