Nebraska’s courts have faced a big challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic but continue to serve the public with the use of technology, the state’s chief justice said Thursday. Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the pandemic forced the courts to turn to livestreaming and video chatting services to ensure that proceedings were accessible to the public and people involved in the system. “We would not have had the ability to rapidly respond to the pandemic if the courts had not built a strong technological foundation over the past decade,” Heavican said in his annual State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers. “As we entered 2020, we were well positioned to transition to distance operations because we had already begun to implement new courtroom technology and programming.”
Heavican said the court’s online payment systems allowed residents to pay traffic tickets and court fines without leaving their homes, and the judiciary also offered an online education system to help judges, lawyers, guardians and others meet continuous education requirements. New attorneys were sworn into office via online ceremonies across the state, Heavican said. In Dawson County, one judge is broadcasting court proceedings on YouTube. Heavican said schools and private organizations have hosted trials in counties whose courthouses are too small for adequate social distancing to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. He said jury trials were held at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Grand Island Central Community College and local K-12 schools and the Lincoln Masonic Lodge.
Heavican also touted the benefits of probation services and problem-solving courts. He said probation costs nearly $2,000 per person, per year, and problem-solving courts costs about $4,000, compared to $41,000 for a person in prison. “Do the math,” he said. “Probation is the taxpayers’ friend.”