It looks like virtual hearings and court proceedings are here to stay for Guam’s justice system.
Chief Justice Phillip Carbullido, who delivered today’s State of the Judiciary address at the Legislature, said: “The days when our courthouse welcomed hundreds of persons a day are over, at least for a while. This is simply the reality we must accept.”
Carbullido’s address Friday morning focused greatly on the impacts of COVID-19.
He told lawmakers, members of the executive branch, fellow judges, and other distinguished guests that the day Guam reported its first positive cases — that infamous mid-March Sunday — he and his management team were already gathered at the Superior Court to discuss what a COVID-justice system would look like.
And just like that, they were into the abyss, navigating the world of Zoom and other video conferencing services, to uphold the law.
“Our trial judges and magistrate judges continued to conduct hearings ranging from magistrate hearings, to juvenile delinquency, to orders of protection, to COVID-19 quarantine and isolation petitions. Nearly 4,000 filings have been accepted since we closed our doors to in-person business, and over 1,000 virtual hearings have been conducted in the Superior and Supreme Courts,” Carbullido said.
And though it took great effort and coordination, Carbullido says the judiciary got itself online and functioning just two weeks after the state of emergency was declared on Guam.
“Through almost 100% electronic and virtual means, the Supreme Court has continued to accept new appeals, conduct panel conferences, issue opinions and orders, grade bar exams, and even swear someone into the Bar by video conference,” Carbullido said.
And though the pandemic may one day be declared over, the Chief Justice says the online judiciary system is the way of the future on Guam even after COVID-19.
“The plan is for DOC to have two rooms in Mangilao and two rooms in Hagåtña to connect with the courtrooms via Zoom so trial judges can conduct virtual hearings without the need to transport the detainees to the Judicial Center,” Carbullido said.
He added: “Even as our courts reopen for most types of court business, we plan to conduct the majority of court business virtually to limit the number of lawyers, litigants, and court personnel who come to the courthouse, so those who must come in can do so safely with the necessary social distancing.”
Carbullido acknowledged that there are many legal matters that still have to be conducted in person. And they’re working through the processes of what jury trials will look like.
The Chief Justice also didn’t miss a beat when plugging the judiciary during budget season.
“There are a myriad of issues flowing from this pandemic that will soon fall on the doorsteps of the court. Since March, there has been a halt on legal actions such as evictions, collections, and unlawful detainer actions,” Carbullido said.
“So while we understand and appreciate that our government coffers are meager and our island economy will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future, please consider the heavy burden that our courts will bear in processing, hearing, and adjudicating the many filings, cases, and trials that will almost certainly arise once these stays have been lifted,” he added.
In his address, Carbullido asked residents to take this time to do their part in beautifying and cleaning the island and to get it ready for the eventual return of tourists.
Carbullido also honored the Late Chief Justice Peter C. Siguenza Jr, posthumously with the Hustisia Award. Siguenza died on March 30 and his wife and daughter were present at today’s address.