On Thursday, March 12, before President Trump declared a national emergency, I walked to the King County Courthouse for a scheduled hearing. In retrospect, it was probably the last journey to court for this trial lawyer, for the foreseeable future.
Here’s what it was like to be in court in Seattle.
The hearing had been scheduled for awhile, a legal formality to approve a settlement for a minor child I represented in a personal injury case.
The little boy – “J.” – had been burned by very hot water spilled in his lap during dinner at a local restaurant. (Before you ask, no – this was not a “redo” of the McDonald’s hot coffee case). In this case, the server had wrongly knocked the hot water pot, over spilling the scalding water on J.’s leg.
The walk to the King County courthouse was unusual, because the sidewalks were empty. There were a few people out and about, but not many. Having listened to medical professionals, as opposed to politicians, I practiced social distancing on my walk.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, there were only 3 people in the security line.
I entered the courthouse without trouble and walked up the stairs instead of getting in the elevator. Steep steps, but no close encounters. Once on the proper floor, I again followed the advice of medical professionals and immediately went into the bathroom to wash my hands.
I was early, which is my habit after 30+ years as a trial lawyer – I’ve seen all sorts of things go wrong the way to court. I dropped my pleadings into the filing basket – which had been moved about 30 feet from court staff.
The judge pointed me to the remotely-placed basket and said, this is an evolving process and we are trying to protect staff. He then said, when your case is called, I would ask that you stay back behind counsel’s table and speak from there, instead of approaching the bench.
Stay back behind counsel’s table and speak from there, instead of approaching the bench.
The judge was calm, thoughtful and professional in explaining these new precautions. He also told everyone in the courtroom that the judges were discussing canceling all in-person hearings and trials.
What was alarming is that while I waited for my case to be called, the other lawyers seemed to be acting as though it was business as usual. There was handshaking and close contact. I kept my distance, because that is what is going to be required to reduce the number of coronavirus cases.
My case was called, the judge approved the minor settlement for J., and complimented the quality of our submittals. As instructed by medical professionals, I went back to the bathroom and thoroughly washed my hands, then exited using the stairwell.
How to be a trial lawyer (who can’t go to court)
Later that day, the court did indeed issued several orders cancelling jury trials and in-person hearings. A appropriate and necessary decision, which will help “flatten the curve” of the virus spread.
After watching other trial lawyers behave as though nothing were amiss, it is clear to me why this had to be done.
My next hearing – another minor settlement approval in a personal injury case – will be held by telephone on Tuesday.
In this time of anxiety, fear and the unknown, we must all adjust our behavior. We must listen to the medical experts. We must come together as a nation for the good of all.
The court system will adjust. There will be confusion, and delays.
But, as a trial lawyer and spokesperson for my clients, I will carry on and pursue the justice to which they are entitled and deserve. For now, nothing can change that.
Attorney Kevin Coluccio is a personal injury trial lawyer based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for a free consultation by phone, email, or chat.