Coronavirus pandemic causing challenges for Alabama legal system

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The coronavirus pandemic is leading to some challenging situations for people in the legal system, but they’re finding ways to work through it.

The court system essentially shut down when the pandemic began to spread. There haven’t been jury trials or grand juries, and it’s even been difficult to sign legal documents. Mark White, an attorney with White Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham, said it’s especially tough for people who are facing charges, because they’re entitled to a speedy trial and aren’t able to get that right now. But White said the Alabama Supreme Court and many circuit courts have issued a number of orders to help cases move forward. And they could implement what’s referred to as “rocket dockets” going forward.

“You’re going to see expedited proceedings, possibly bring some judges out of retirement to be able to handle more cases,” White said. “It went off like a light switch, and it’s going to come back on possibly like that, although, in order to ensure everybody’s safety, it has got to be a gradual reopening of the courts.”

White said a few courts have had in-person proceedings, but nothing with juries so far. He said in some cases, mediation has taken place remotely. And he’s even seen some firms offer drive-through closings.

Estate planning also is a common question White is hearing. In particular, health care workers on the front line of the pandemic are asking about that. He said it’s not easy to make it happen, but legal professionals are stepping up to help these workers.

“The lawyers that I have seen, they’re going to do what it takes to make sure that those people that put themselves in harm’s way have the assurance that there’s at least one thing they’re in control of, and that’s their estate planning,” White said.

He said it’s wise for anyone in an at-risk group to consider getting a will even before they get sick. Once a person is in intensive care it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for lawyers to work with them on estate planning. Even that patient’s family members can’t see them in-person, so it’s tough for a lawyer to communicate with them.


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