Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Some Ideas for Handling the Upcoming Covid-19 Case Surge


Everyone can easily foresee the surge of in-person court cases that are coming later in 2021.  Many courts have put case processing on hold.  And assuming that the vaccination program will be successful in the first half of the year, what can courts do to address the case backlog and new matters that will come?  I have some ideas that I will share below.

Please also note that my colleagues and friends of the NCSC have created a tremendous resource around courts and the pandemic at  Click on the Statewide Plans to Resume Court Operations link (you may have to scroll across the red navigation bar to find it).




1.      First, estimate/plan how many case hearing/trial events per day you need to schedule to clear the backlog.  You can do it!  You have the statistics.  Just remember that cases needing language interpretation will double in time and resources in your estimates. 

Second, hire and train more judge pro tem resources now.  Some of these people could be provided by volunteers.  But courts should not count on this to meet the entire need.  Therefore, one needs to get the funding lined up.  Some of this funding may come from special Covid-19 relief programs by the state and federal government.

This could require some creative financing such as requesting authorization for bond funding that in turn will be paid by dedicated court fees or future taxes.  One will need to work with their executive and legislative bodies on this.

One also needs to advertise, select, and train new judges to serve for the period needed to help clear the backlog.  This can all be done online. 

Third, you will also need to connect these new temporary judges to the court’s electronic CMS/DMS/E-filing systems.  You do not have those in place?  One can contract for those systems as all the major vendors have cloud versions.  So, what that they don’t hold all your court’s case information?  They can temporarily hold what is needed for the short-term emergency. 

Fourth, find and schedule locations to hold the additional in-person court events.  Now some of these places may be your existing courthouses if you extend hours such as holding evening, 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM (17:00-24:00) court.  These could also be schools/college/hotel conference facilities that will take some time to restart their business following pandemic reopening.  Again, you can do it now.

Fifth, this item goes with the one above, schedule security for the remote locations and extended hours.  I do not see how one avoids paying for this.  The good news is that many locations already have metal detectors and x-ray machines in place. 

Sixth, gear up your Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) capabilities.  The more that litigants can adjudicate/solve their own disputes the less work you will need to schedule. 

Seventh, expand your court's online hearing/trial capabilities.  While the items above anticipate reopening in-person courts, one can continue the online processes that I hope you are using.

Eighth. This is the hard one.  There may be ways to change/update laws, court rules, and procedures to reduce the amount of work needed to adjudicate matters.  I leave that up to my judge, lawyer, and law professor friends to propose these changes.

What did I miss?  Please share in the comment section below.  Please note that I have to approve the comments before they are posted so give me a day or two to respond.


  1. 9. Create a virtual waiting room/check-in. What this accomplishes is more control over the number of people in the building, as well as less contact between staff and visitors. This can be accomplished with a text messaging service as a software such as eCourtDate.

  2. Great list Jim! I would offer two additions - 1) measure as much as you can about the processes and outcomes, and 2) continue to "tell the story" about the work underway, how the public may access the services, the investments made to overcome the surge, and be open about the results (use the data to help tell that story).

  3. Tiny Chats suggested screening cases to make sure they meet the pleading requirements and don't involve commmon mistakes or are not meritorious. They also suggested in taking at look at postage delays--and seeing if those can be dealt with b/c in many areas the mail is delayed--so notices will take longer--so adjust and manage that. I really think it is important to really simplify the signature requirements and remove notary requirements. Pass court rules that allow for simple signatures, like symbols, /S/ etc. And remove notarization if possible bc that is hard to do nowadays and costs a lot of money to do remotely (I have heard like $300 or more). Great post!

  4. One more--have the court provide chrome books and broadband for free. Particularly those in rural areas or serving high poverty populations. Not everyone will be able to a hearing via zoom-provide alternatives.