Courts across the country now grapple with the changing face of trials in a time of social distancing and spikes of COVID-19 complicated by the confines of the courtroom. Attorneys and litigants must also adapt to this new “normal.” In this setting, an older law may help to bring new technology into the courtroom.
COVID-19 spawned the immediate use of videoconferencing and other technology in the courtroom. Fortunately, over a decade prior to the current pandemic, the Louisiana Legislature adopted Louisiana Civil Code of Procedure article 1633.1 which expressly provides for live televised testimony at a trial. Pursuant to Article 1633.1:
The court may order, upon a showing of appropriate safeguards, live testimony of a witness to be presented in open court by teleconference, video link, or other visual remote technology, if the witness is beyond the subpoena power of the court or when compelling circumstances are shown. The order may be entered at a pretrial conference or, in exceptional circumstances, on motion set for hearing at least ten days prior to trial or at another time that does not prejudice the parties.
The Article, titled “Live trial testimony by video,” does not limit the live video testimony feature only at trial. Commentary suggests that the term “trial” is intended to include evidentiary hearings on exceptions as well as summary matters. The comments further provide that a showing must be made to the court’s satisfaction of appropriate safeguards, such as (1) reliable transmission procedures and image quality, (2) an orderly process for reference to exhibits by the witness and all counsel or parties conducting the examination, and (3) an absence of any outside influence on the witness during testimony. Even if all the parties agree to the use of live televised testimony, the Article nevertheless requires a court order.
Pursuant to the Article, the court may order televised testimony when “compelling circumstances are shown.” These circumstances may exist where a witness has a pre-existing condition or is restricted from live attendance by their physician. They may also exist for witnesses barred from work-related travel by their employer.
Although adopted in 2007, Article 1633.1 remains largely unused by both courts and litigants; it appears its time has come.