DA Kellner supports continuing Colorado virtual court proceedings

Heather Willard

Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver / March 9, 2023

(Douglas County, Colo.) The Colorado Supreme Court wants residents to weigh-in on whether to continue virtual accommodations for court proceedings started to help mitigate public health risks during COVID-19.

Traditionally, Colorado’s (and the entire nation’s) trial courts have not offered any remote access to proceedings, but as in-person proceedings ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, court stakeholders sought solutions to provide speedy trials as guaranteed under U.S. law.

The effectiveness and efficiency of allowing certain hearings to be held virtually, as well as the added transparency through streaming of virtual proceedings “cannot be denied,” the Colorado Supreme Court stated in a press release. Because of this, the court intends to codify how remote proceedings can be used to provide uniform usage in the courts.

“It is a forgone conclusion that virtual proceedings are here to stay, and they provide a tremendous benefit in many respects,” Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright said. “Before the Court takes any action regarding this valuable public resource, we feel it is critically important to hear from all stakeholders who have now had nearly three years to adapt to this new environment and technology.”

The court is seeking public input to be sent to supremecourtrules@judicial.state.co.us through March 15. The draft directives are posted to the “Special Announcements” section of the Court’s homepage and discuss what proceedings can be “flexible” in virtual or physical hearings, and which must be in-person.

18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner says he favors solidifying the use of virtual proceedings, calling the sudden enactment of video streaming court proceedings in March 2020 a “jump into the future.”

“In general, I favor more public access to our court proceedings,” he said. “I think it builds trust with the community to see what happens in court, to understand the process and see for themselves that it’s a fair process that leads to fair results.”

Kellner discussed how enacting virtual hearings wasn’t always the smoothest process, but over time the court staff ironed out many wrinkles in the process. Now, Colorado courts can by and large maintain day-to-day court proceedings via technology.

“I think it’s given a lot of flexibility to victims who want to attend every appearance,” Kellner said, adding that many obstacles face victims seeking to attend criminal cases, such as childcare, transportation, and time away from work. The DA said victims who move out of state could follow cases and exercise their rights in court.

“When we first started doing this, we had a concern that many victims would not want to be involved with virtual proceedings,” Kellner said. “But we actually found that we had greater interaction.”

Kellner said he’s seen benefits for criminal defendants and defense attorneys, as well: the office is issuing fewer failure-to-appear warrants, as defendants can attend hearings they otherwise would miss, and defense attorneys can be more flexible when scheduling routine appearances with multiple courts.

Kellner said one of his biggest concerns is the possible streaming of crucial proceedings, like jury selection, that could make some participants uncomfortable. He said judges must be able to limit virtual proceedings for many reasons.

Boatright said any justice directive issued by the Court defining how virtual participation and livestreaming may be used would ensure that judges retain discretion.

“We look forward to everyone’s thoughts on this aspect of a possible Colorado Justice Directive, as well as everything else in consideration of this historic opportunity to modernize the way we do business and provide a new level of transparency to our courts,” Boatright said.

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

Broomfield, CO

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