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Chief justice: Technology helped courts adapt to pandemic

January 21, 2022 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s courts have adapted well to the coronavirus pandemic with help from new technology, but the judicial branch is struggling with worker shortages, the state’s top judge said Friday.

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the judicial branch has adopted remote court hearings, electronic filing of court documents and other steps to keep the courts open and delivering justice.

“This year I report to you that our courts have not only remained open, but have adapted to the realities of the pandemic,” Heavican said in his annual State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers. “Our judges indicate that case back-logs are minimal. That assertion is supported by case management statistics. Few states have achieved such success.”

Keeping the courts open has presented the judicial branch with an ongoing challenge, Heavican said, “but when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

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Heavican struck mostly optimistic notes in his speech, praising the work ethic of judges, staff and practicing attorneys. He said online meeting services such as Zoom and WebEx have allowed judges to hold virtual hearings from their homes or offices.

“Without this technology, our courts would have been crippled with delays,” Heavican said.

Heavican said there appears to be popular support for continuing video court hearings even after the pandemic wanes.

The use of electronic court-document filing has made the judicial branch more efficient and transparent, he said.

The courts have struggled with worker shortages, similar to other parts of state government, he said. The judicial branch has implemented hiring and retention bonuses to try to address the problem and is working with the National Center for State Courts to conduct a workload and salary study in Nebraska, he said.