In a sign that civil trial practice hasn’t entirely emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal magistrate judge recently granted two college students’ request for a protective order blocking the University of San Diego’s attempt to conduct their discovery depositions in person.
The case, In re University of San Diego Tuition and Fees COVID-19 Refund Litigation, No. 20-cv-1946 (S.D. Cal., Jan.6, 2023), is one of many brought by students seeking refunds of tuition, fees, and housing costs paid at colleges that were forced to cease in-person instruction due to COVID-19 mandates.
After noting that remote depositions have been routinely authorized in the Ninth Circuit since the onset of the pandemic and citing a pair of 2020 court opinions finding that remote depositions were an “effective and appropriate means to keep cases moving forward,” the magistrate judge observed that the Southern District of California today still operates under an emergency declaration authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”).
And then the magistrate judge turned to the effectiveness of remote depositions.
“Remote depositions continue to be a prudent and effective way to conduct discovery,” the magistrate judge said, granting the students’ request to be deposed remotely.
The court’s ruling in In re University of San Diego Tuition and Fees COVID-19 Refund Litigation is a reminder that the lessons learned during the pandemic are abiding. In fact, we were struck by the magistrate judge’s decision to highlight the effectiveness of remote depositions. Remote depositions aren’t practice tools that lawyers must use, they’re tools that lawyers should use.
As we’ve noted before, the mere recitation of the word “COVID-19” is not an automatic ticket to a remote deposition over the opposing party’s objection. However, setting aside the arguably waning relevance of health concerns, the fact remains that everyone involved in the justice system has experienced the benefits of remote depositions.
For lawyers, remote depositions bring scheduling efficiencies and ease travel headaches. For clients, the cost savings are tangible and appreciated. And among judges, remote depositions are widely seen as effective and useful for reducing the case backlogs that many courts are still experiencing.
The benefits of remote depositions are more compelling today than they were during the pandemic, when lawyers had few tools other than office videoconferencing software (e.g., Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.) to harness for pretrial depositions.
By using a modern, purpose-built deposition technology platform such as Esquire Solutions’ eLitigate product, lawyers can efficiently and securely depose witnesses and manage exhibits through an intuitive, professional interface designed for litigation. Unlike Zoom and other off-the-shelf office software solutions that contain multiple landmines for missteps and errant sharing of client confidential information, eLitigate provides an optimized, remote deposition environment with sidebar rooms, exhibit management, and testimony review tools developed with litigators in mind.