In what is likely a first, the North Dakota Supreme Court March 23 heard oral arguments over the internet, meeting together in digital space through an online meeting application.
Due to concerns over COVID-19, state buildings have been closed to the public, gatherings of 10 or more people have been discouraged and North Dakotans are practicing social distancing.
As a result, the state Supreme Court justices are doing what many North Dakotans are doing these days — telecommuting to the office.
Three cases were discussed, allowing the justices and attorneys, each physically in different locations, to appear together on the same computer screen and conduct business.
Chief Justice Jon Jensen and Justice Gerald VandeWalle were in different places at the Capitol, Justice Dan Crothers worked from his home in Bismarck, Justice Lisa Fair McEvers was located at her house in West Fargo and Justice Jerod Tufte participated from his rural Kidder County home.
The cases also were broadcast live over the internet, just as the Court does with arguments heard in the Bismarck courtroom.
As usual, lawyers presented their cases and the Justices questioned counsel, all in real-time and just as if the session was occurring live in the courtroom.
In one of the three cases heard, District Court Judge Rhonda R. Ehlis sat in for Justice Tufte, who was disqualified from that particular hearing. Judge Ehlis joined the justices from her chambers in Dickinson.
After the oral arguments, the Court then met using another secure videoconferencing application to discuss the cases among themselves.