COVID-19 has caused problems for attorneys and clients who had hopes of getting their cases through the Connecticut court system quickly.
Courts completely closed in March and have been slow to reopen, which means a backlog is building and cases continue to be filed.
“The biggest impact has been that there are no jury trials and the Connecticut Constitution and the U.S. Constitution guarantee a right to a trial by jury,” Ryan McKeen said.
McKeen, a personal injury attorney with Connecticut Trial Firm, says without jury trials it’s hard to get cases to reach a settlement.
“It is really the only hammer that we have or the only leverage that people have against insurance companies and there haven’t been any trials,” McKeen says.
Chief Justice Richard Robinson has said jury trials will begin again in November, but trial dates are being scheduled well into next year.
According to the Judicial Branch, pending cases have jumped, in some cases, more than 200%.
The number of total pending civil cases jumped about 31% and criminal cases for less serious matters like motor vehicle violations and drunk driving cases almost doubled, but the most serious criminal cases were down slightly.
Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll III said in a statement that “COVID-19 is a factor re: the increases in Part B criminal and small claims. Frankly, however, the growth is much smaller than might have been expected.”
The Judicial Branch added that they are now hearing cases both remotely and in courthouses.
Attorney Monte Frank said they went from 30 courthouses down to six at one point during the shutdown. There are currently only 8 courthouses that are closed.
“Then began the process of trying to figure out, with the Bar's input, how do we reopen as efficiently as possible? Not just for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis but looking forward to what happens after the pandemic is over,” Frank said.
It’s not clear how long it will take to catch up on both the criminal and civil sides.
“There is an ability to move forward with the technology so that the court system can then start working down the backlog until things are safe,” Frank said.
“We anticipate resolving the backlog through the hard work of our judges and staff and the continued efforts to safely and incrementally expand the business we do inside the courthouses and remotely,” Carroll said.