Over the last few weeks, the Enjuris team has reached out to interview our Premier Attorney Members about how their team and their clients are coping during the pandemic. So far, we’ve received insightful answers from personal injury and work injury lawyers all around the country — including in Colorado, Montana, Georgia and Florida.
But what about criminal lawyers and criminal defendants? How are they being impacted?
Although our website primarily focuses on personal injury law, we thought it might be helpful to also ask a criminal defense attorney if and how the coronavirus is affecting their firm and clients — especially since many of today’s legal issues and challenges apply to both criminal and civil cases alike.
So we reached out to Neal Davis, a top-rated defense lawyer in Houston, Texas and founder of the Neal Davis Law Firm, to see what he had to say.
Q: Are law firms and legal services considered “essential businesses” in Texas?
A: In the state of Texas, law firms and legal services are considered “essential.” Lawsuits continue to be filed, arrests continue to occur, and grounds for civil remedies arise everyday. Attorneys and their clients must continue to have access to courts, which is why they remain open (albeit electronically for the vast majority of the courts).
A: As a result of the virus, we work mostly remotely. However, with new clients, we still sometimes meet in person. In emergencies, we physically appear in court. About 75 percent (or more) of our practice is now remote.
Q: What top concerns and questions do your clients have right now about their case?
A: The top 3 questions I get asked are:
- How can we meet? We are available to meet via teleconferencing or in person.
- How can we work out payment arrangements given the current circumstances? Every case is different and we do our best to work with our clients to be able to make payments in this unprecedented time. We are offering longer payment plans than normal in almost every case.
- When do I have to go to court?For defendants out on bond, cases are being reset to May and June. This is a very fluid situation and it’s being taken week-by-week. Some cases may be moved up or back depending on the circumstances.
Q: We’ve heard that some criminal judges have continued to require in-person court hearings and in-person reporting to pretrial services. Is this true?
A: Unfortunately, yes — for now. However, the courts are reevaluating how often they want defendants and/or lawyers to appear in person. They are meeting shortly and we look forward to having an update on that.
As President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA), the nation’s largest local criminal defense bar, I sent a letter urging all Harris County Criminal Court Judges to stop requiring defendants to report in person to court or pre-trial services for the rest of the COVID-19 health emergency.
What’s worse, many courts require defendants and their lawyers to appear in person, but do not require prosecutors to do so — instead allowing prosecutors to appear via video conference.
As I said in the letter, I believe a judicial policy requiring defendants to appear in person is not in the interest of public safety but rather endangers the lives of defendants, defense counsel, court staff, family members of defense counsel, defendants and court staff and third parties with whom they come into contact.
Q: What would you like prospective clients to know during this crisis?
A: The wheels of justice continue to grind, albeit more slowly for now. But cases continue to progress. This is not a long-term, protracted slow-down. I anticipate that by late summer courts will resume physical appearances regularly so long as precautions (masks, gloves, distancing, etc.) are taken. Like the economy, courts cannot be physically closed for months or the consequences will be grave.
Q: What’s the best way for people to reach you during this time?
A: Clients can contact us via phone or email. We can then arrange to meet in person or via zoom. We are at our offices everyday and continuing to meet and speak with new and existing clients.