Legislation authorizing trial courts to mandate remote proceedings is moving forward in the Texas House, but not without substantial changes to the filed version of the bill. As originally filed, HB 3611 by Rep. Leach and SB 690 by Senator Zaffirini adds §21.013, Government Code, to authorize a court of this state, either on its own motion or on motion of a party, to (1) conduct a hearing or other proceeding remotely without consent of the parties (except where consent is constitutionally required), and (2) allow a judge, party, attorney, witness, court reporter, juror, or any other individual to participate in a remote proceeding, including a deposition, hearing, trial, or other proceeding. If a jury trial is to be conducted remotely, the court shall consider on the record any motion or objection related to proceeding with the trial not later than 7 days before trial, or if a motion or objection is made within 7 days before trial, as soon as practicable. The bill further requires the court to ensure that prospective jurors have access to the necessary technology, and the court to provide reasonable notice to the public if the court will hold a proceeding away from the court’s usual location. Finally, the bill repeals §30.012(b), CPRC, which permits a witness deposition by electronic means only if it is conducted before the commencement of trial.
After receiving significant pushback from criminal, family law, and civil trial lawyers, as well as from advocates for children and the disabled, a committee substitute made significant changes in the bill. The substitute adds the following provisions:
- Provides that a court that elects to conduct a remote proceeding shall give adequate notice to the parties, allow a party to file an objection to the remote proceeding not later than the 10th day after receiving notice, and provide a method to a person to notify the court that the person is unable to participate in the remote proceeding because the person is disabled, lacks required technology, or shows other good cause;
- Requires the court to adopt an alternative method that accommodates the person’s disability, lack of technology, or other situation, allow the person to appear in-person, or conduct the proceeding in-person;
- Requires the court, upon receiving an objection to a remote proceeding and requesting an in-person proceeding, to consider and grant the motion for good cause shown;
- Requires the prosecutor and defendant to agree to a remote contested adversarial or contested evidentiary proceeding for a criminal offense punishable by confinement; and
- Prohibits a district court, statutory county court, or county court from conducting a jury trial as a remote proceeding unless each party to the proceeding agrees.
CSHB 3611 was voted favorably as substituted from House Judiciary on 4/28. SB 690 has been heard in Senate State Affairs and remains pending.