Vermont criminal defense attorneys and Defendants are well aware of the Calendar Call day. Simply put, it is a gathering of a large number of prosecutors, defense attorneys and defendants for one block of time, normally a morning or afternoon. What is not as simple is the argument that these calendar calls can be an utter waste of time and resources for most who are required to attend and now, with what we know about the COVID-19 crisis, it can be downright dangerous.
With advanced technology that allows video conferencing and the accessibility of attorneys via a wide range of communication platforms such as email and social media, there is a better way to reduce or, even outright eliminate the Vermont criminal court calendar call. However, for us to accomplish this feat, lawyers, judges, and defendants need to buy into a couple of modern-day principals.
Defense Attorneys Should Have Social Media Accounts
One of the prevailing arguments for maintaining the Calendar Call is that it may be the first time that defense attorneys can meet with their clients to discuss the details of the case. With a little ingenuity, this argument should fail.
Indigent clients, who make up a large number of criminal cases, on court dockets, struggle to maintain reliable channels of communication. Often they switch cell phone numbers numerous times, or simply do not have a reliable phone that they can afford. This makes communication with defendants and their attorneys difficult, especially when it comes to notifying defendants of court dates and potential offers to resolve their cases. Often, Defendants will rely on public wi-fi to access social media messaging accounts such as Snapchat or Instagram to stay in communication.
To provide access to their clients, all defense attorneys, including public defender offices should have firm social media accounts that allow their clients to send them messages. It can be a more reliable way for basic information to be passed along and to be able to coordinate the handling of a case. Further, with video conferencing widely available for free, the face-to-face meeting can be completed remotely and effectively.
Public Defender Meeting Days
It is a valid argument that for certain cases, there is no substitute for in-person meetings between a defendant and their attorney. To address these needs, instead of gathering all of the defendants together at once and having them sit in crowded hallways for an afternoon or morning, public defenders’ offices could schedule meeting days at the Courthouse. Reaching out to individual clients (via social media messaging if necessary) and scheduling 30-minute blocks of time for them to meet with their attorney at the courthouse would greatly reduce the number of people milling around and would allow attorneys to more efficiently prepare each case.
Proactive prosecution meetings
If a defense attorney’s first conversation with the prosecutor is at the Calendar Call, neither party has effectively utilized the time between arraignment and calendar call. The most efficient way to move cases forward is to discuss the cases with prosecutors within 90 days of the arraignment. In many cases, this conversation will allow the parties to come to a resolution. In other cases, it will at least give each side an indication of where the parties stand.
Defense Attorneys and Prosecutors Should Report To Judge Via Teleconference or Email
If the attorneys have conducted their reviews of the evidence and have consulted with each other, it is easy for the parties to quickly report to the judge the status of the case without needing to do so in person. During the COVID-19 crisis, attorneys have issued joint reports to the judge in writing stating that the case is either proceeding to trial, settling or the parties are requesting additional time to conduct further discovery. If the case is settling the court can schedule a change of plea hearing by blocking off the requested amount of time (normally between 15 minutes to an hour depending on the severity of the charge).
If the case requires a judge’s input, the parties can appear via video or teleconference. If the defendant needs to be present they can also appear via video conference either in their location or at their attorney’s office. This can be scheduled for a specific block of time, which again reduces the number of people crowding the halls and courtrooms and will allow parties to conduct their business more efficiently, knowing what they need to prepare for and when, as opposed to jumping up in the courtroom to get the judge’s attention over the other attorneys.
The Calendar Call can be a waste of everyone’s time
The shutdown of courts has opened our eyes. Courts can be more efficient. And, in the process, attorneys and clients can also be more efficient. The simple solution in a post-COVID-19 world is to take steps readily available to us to limit our need for mass court hearings. This will not only ensure competent representation of the defendant’s or state’s interest but also protect everyone from needlessly being exposed to unhealthy situations.