Elon University / Today in Elon / Symposium explores the impact, good and bad, of COVID-19 on the justice system


The North Carolina Judiciary has introduced new procedures and tactics to support the administration of justice in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including changes to the state’s highest court.

From distributing draft opinions electronically to hearing appeal arguments via Zoom, both of which required judges to end longstanding practices that relied on paper and in-person discussions, the North Carolina Supreme Court has embraced the technology in such a way that some updates are likely to stick around.

And the Hon. Sam J. Ervin IV thinks that’s a good thing.

But as he noted in his September 23 keynote address for the Elon Law Review’s 2022 symposium, bigger questions remain regarding courts and governmental authority: “To what extent are there limits on the authority of the Chief Justice or the Governor to enter in an emergency? related commands? »

These issues have never been resolved in litigation stemming from government shutdown orders, said Ervin, an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court since 2015. And they likely will be here if another public health threat emerges. .

From left to right: Jordan Lockhart, Elon Law Review 2017 L’22 Symposium Co-Editor, Cameron Capp L’22 Symposium Editor and Jeffrey Hudgins L’22 Symposium Co-Editor

Nearly 200 lawyers, judges, students and professors have registered for “The Law of COVID-19: Courts, Education and Civil Rights,” the theme of this fall’s Elon Law Review symposium. The students held their symposium virtually for the third time in as many years.

And as they heard in the keynote, the pandemic has influenced the justice system in different ways at different levels, with Ervin suggesting that the trial courts were most affected by the shift to remote operations. Courts continue to deal with a backlog of cases that have grown due to the closures.

Still, different parts of the state have experienced the pandemic in different ways, Ervin said. Some communities have been hit harder than others, and the orders of two chief justices, at two points, both attempted to balance public health while providing the courts with the flexibility to conduct their business accordingly. local conditions.

“We’ve learned to do some things differently and more efficiently than before, which I think has already produced improvements in the system,” Ervin said. “Courts will never be the same as before the pandemic.”

Ervin served as Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court after serving six years at the North Carolina Court of Appeals and a decade on the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission. Prior to his public service, Ervin spent 18 years in private practice in his hometown of Morganton, North Carolina handling a wide variety of civil, criminal and administrative matters, including numerous appeals.

Since joining the Supreme Court, Ervin has helped decide more than 540 cases. He received a degree in history from Davidson College and a doctorate in law from Harvard University.

Ervin delivered his remarks at a lecture named for the late Michael Rich, a nationally renowned criminal law scholar who died of cancer in 2016 while serving as Jennings Professor and Emerging Scholar at Elon Law. . It was introduced by Acting Dean of Elon Law, Alan Woodlief.

“In February 2020, I never imagined holding our Law Review Symposium virtually over Zoom,” Woodlief said in his remarks. “What a difference two and a half years and a global pandemic will make. Law schools, courts and our entire justice system have been called upon to adapt to new technologies, a new world of remote working and, in some cases, new mindsets about our society and how it works. .

The Elon Law Review was established in 2008 as a scholarly journal directed and edited by students at Elon University School of Law. With each issue, Elon Law Review strives to advance legal education and scholarship through the contribution of intelligent discussion and analysis of the law.

In addition to publishing an annual issue that examines new and important topics in legal research, Elon Law Review hosts its annual symposium on an emerging topic in the legal community.

Additional Roundtables at Symposium 2022

Clockwise from top left: Kathy Conner, associate professor at Elon Law, Zoe Niesel, professor and associate dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law, Chrystal Clodomir, professor assistant to Elon Law, and Luke Bierman, Elon Law Professor and Dean Emeritus.

“Educating Lawyers During a Pandemic”
Moderated by Associate Professor Kathy Conner

  • Luc BiermanProfessor of Law and former Dean of Elon University School of Law
  • Christine ClodomirAssistant Professor of Law, Elon University School of Law
  • Zoe NieselProfessor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, St. Mary’s University School of Law

DISCUSSION SUMMARY: Legal education had long incorporated e-learning elements into courses for years before the pandemic. What really proved disruptive in March 2020 was the need to pivot exclusively online, virtually overnight. At the same time, the introduction of Zoom, WebEx, and Teams into law lessons has often benefited many students who identify as having learning disabilities. Now that a full generation of students has been exposed to online learning, it is expected – both in undergraduate courses and in law school – that online learning opportunities will be permanent, whether or not professors wish to return to pre-COVID practices.

Clockwise from top left: Patricia Perkins, associate professor at Elon Law, attorney Lauren Hausman L’21 and attorney Lauren Brasil of the Fair Housing Project Legal Aid of North Carolina.

“Civil Rights in COVID: From Vaccines to Abortions”
Moderated by Associate Professor Patricia Perkins

  • lauren brazil, Fair housing projectNorth Carolina Legal Aid
  • lauren hausmanintellectual property attorney, alumnus of Elon University Law School

DISCUSSION SUMMARY: A common thread can be said to connect the topics of housing, reproductive health, vaccines and shelter-in-place orders: bodily autonomy. What control can state governments or the federal government have over an individual’s personal health choices? Can a landlord of a multi-unit building require tenants to be vaccinated? Where is the government overstepping its authority by closing businesses or forcing people to wear masks? Other questions promise to emerge as society faces increased disability claims due to the lasting effects of COVID. While courts have repeatedly affirmed that people with disabilities have the right to decide where and how they live, discrimination remains widespread, especially in housing with a lack of reasonable accommodation.

Clockwise from top left: Elon law professor Steve Friedland, attorney Margaret Dudley of Elon Law’s Emergency Legal Services Program and professor Angela Upchurch of the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

“The courts: how COVID has affected the application of justice”
Moderated by Professor Steve Friedland

DISCUSSION SUMMARY: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way courts work. Technology and remote access have become essential tools in the delivery of legal services, although they are not without drawbacks. It has also been noted that people may be more contentious and less willing to compromise when they show up on the computer for negotiations rather than in person. Yet the need for access to courts is imperative, and the ability to conduct business remotely will be a crucial part of addressing a backlog of cases resulting from court closures in the early months of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also exacerbated pressure, emotional exhaustion and burnout resulting in higher turnover in the legal profession, law enforcement and social services, which diminishes the application of justice .

Thoughts from the Symposium Editors on Elon’s Law Review

“This year’s symposium showcased the resilience and innovation of the industry, while reflecting on the weaknesses found in the entire system on which we had relied. Experts have been invited to help us unpack new ideas and paradigms regarding the future of the legal field, while raising important questions for the industry as professionals continue to navigate a post-COVID era. The Elon Law Review is extremely grateful to all of the panelists and moderators who helped bring such an important discussion to life. – Cameron Capp L’22, Symposium Editor

“The symposium provided a broad discussion of how the pandemic has disrupted and changed legal work. From judges and family lawyers to educators, panelists and speakers have seen their work impacted in ways that still reverberate today. It was especially encouraging to see the participation of so many lawyers at Elon, with not only educators, but also alumni and practicing lawyers from the main campus participating in the program. – Jeffrey Hudgins L’22, Symposium Co-Editor


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