Reprinted from LegalNews.com, April 20, 2020, Detroit Legal News Publishing, LLC
Ever since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order last month – an order that has since been extended until the end of April – due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s had an effect on all businesses.
And the legal field is no exception.
It’s significantly impacted the way Judge Mariam Bazzi hears court cases at the 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County, located in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit. Bazzi, the second Arab-American woman in Wayne County to be appointed to the bench, oversees criminal cases.
“Right now, we’re handling only emergency and in-custody matters – arraignments, sentencing for in-custody defendants, emergency bond motions, probation violation warrants. If someone’s bonded out, they won’t have to go to court until the situation changes. The situation is always changing; it’s so fluid,” said Bazzi, an alumna of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Wayne State University Law School, and the Harvard Young American Leaders Program.
There are 58 judges in 3rd Circuit Court, according to Bazzi. Only a handful of judges will appear in their courtrooms one to two days per week in order for the rest of the courtrooms to be appropriately cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis to limit exposure of the coronavirus to the public and the court staff.
When Bazzi appears in court, the only area people present in her courtroom are her clerk and the court reporter – all of whom comply to the social distancing protocols. The attorneys and the defendants are brought in via Zoom, a teleconference software that has become especially prevalent in the last month alone.
“The defendant is represented by counsel. Everyone is still present, just over Zoom technology. We are going to continue to certainly balance safety of the community, the people who work in our courts, and the safety of litigants who come into our courts,” said Bazzi. “Teleconferencing isn’t new. Defendants have entered their pleas from the county jail (before this pandemic).”
According to Bazzi, the pandemic has had a major impact on how judges are now looking at bond issues in criminal cases.
“When addressing bond, a judge will always have to set a bond that will ensure the safety of the community and the defendant’s appearance in court,” she explained. “But now, with the pandemic, if too many people are in custody, there is a significantly increased health and safety risk to both the incarcerated individuals and the law enforcement professionals who work at the facilities. So now, I have to also balance that very real safety risk when assessing what would be a fair and equitable bond on cases that come before me.”
For attorney Danielle Mayoras – who hosts REELZ’s “Fortune Fights” with her husband and fellow attorney Andy and is a shareholder in the Troy-based law firm of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. – she and her partners chose to close down their office prior to the governor’s order in an effort to protect both employees and clients alike.
“Because we work with a lot of elderly individuals, it was paramount that we do what we could to keep them safe. I’ve had almost daily communication with my fellow shareholders in the last few weeks via phone and text, of course. There have been countless decisions to make, and we are in constant communication,” explained Mayoras, an alumna of the University of Michigan Law School. “The biggest change is that we went from working together in a physical office to working virtually out of our homes. We are still able to communicate with each other and with clients, but now everything is done remotely.”
Mayoras also has utilized Zoom.
“(It’s) definitely a different type of interaction than in-person, so that has been an adjustment,” she said. “I feel like I am constantly on my phone communicating with my partners and staff. I learned Zoom and now have a Zoom account, which is something that I hadn’t needed before the quarantine. Normally, I do a fair amount of TV interviews, but my most recent TV interview was by Zoom, which was a first!”
Annette Benson, founder of Annette Benson Law in Bingham Farms, also has used Zoom to communicate with clients and the court.
“For me, it feels more personal not only because we are communicating from our homes, but because emotionally we are connected through our common concern of this pandemic – this sense of unity is a good thing,” said Benson, an alumna of Michigan State University and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. “The pandemic has not really changed how I practice law, but it has forced positive change among many of my colleagues (since) courts are now being more selective in what cases they will hear, attorneys are forced to work together to problem-solve.”
Before the pandemic erupted, Benson’s assistant transformed her office to be fully digital. Working remotely from home with full access to her office has not been an adjustment for her. However, the change in her routine has been an adjustment, she admitted.
“Working from home full time made my daily routine feel like a familiar version of what I knew – only like seeing my reflection in a carnival mirror,” said Benson.
As scary and frustrating as this pandemic has been for many, Benson is looking at the positives. She’s also taking the time to reassess and re-evaluate everything.
“Like many, I have lived most of my adult life in fast-forward, constant motion to tackle the never-ending to-do lists. Along the way of this marathon, I have celebrated accomplishments, enjoyed the fruits of my labor, and appreciated my family, friends, and beautiful surroundings — or so I thought,” explained Benson. “Turning 50 last summer was the impetus to re-evaluating and re-prioritizing my goals and dreams for the future. The reality that life is fragile and that we are mortal suddenly became a daily reminder, leading me to slow down – to be more present – to appreciate more than the results. To appreciate the gift of simply being.”
While everyone is homebound, restless, and anxious, Benson stated this is an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize who we are, what we want, and what we truly need.
“It is usually a traumatic event like a death, divorce, or a larger scale event like a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or this COVID-19 monster, that creates opportunity for reflection… allows us time to be able to think, to feel, to effectuate long overdue change,” she said. “I hope that others will recognize that and take advantage of this opportunity to slow down, look around, and appreciate what you see, so you can then look inward and find peace with yourself.”