DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – After a nearly three-month hiatus, hundreds of eviction hearings are moving forward in Dallas County.
But the proceedings will look a little different over the next few weeks.
Judge Steve Seider’s hearings are taking place via Zoom.
Under a Dallas County moratorium, eviction hearings were suspended until June 15 due to the pandemic.
Now, courtrooms are facing a backlog of cases.
CBS 11 found at least 356 eviction cases have been heard across four different Dallas County Justice of the Peace courts since June 15.
Several courts did not return requests for comment by deadline.
“We’re ramping up. These are all cases that… have been pending since March,” Seider said. “It was overwhelming looking at the number of cases to set. But as we found out, a lot of the tenants had moved out, or reached agreements or made payments.”
Judge Seider presides over JP Court 3-2 in Dallas County, which has scheduled 105 cases on its docket since June 15, according to a clerk.
Approximately half of those cases were eventually dismissed.
Judge Seider said parties can either appear in person or remotely. Some of his dockets have been a mixture of virtual and physical appearances.
“The technology we’re embracing, we’re finding out its capability but also its limitations,” Seider said.
Some of those limitations include connectivity issues or operating video cameras.
“It’s not lost on me that there are about 14,000 people without power this morning,” Seider said. “So we did have folks that showed up today in person.”
Sandy Rollins, the executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, said she believes eviction hearing should not be moving forward at all during the pandemic.
“The pandemic is worse now than when the courts were shut down for that period,” Rollins said.
Rollins said she also worries about the safety of renters who must venture into courtrooms if they lack the technology to operate Zoom.
“Not everybody has a smart phone or a computer that they can hook up to and if they do, they might not have the technical skill or data plan to do it or the wifi signal to do it,” Rollins said.
Courts will undoubtedly face a learning curve these next few months.
But Seider said he believes justice can still be served for all parties involved.
“We’re working hard to see justice is done,” he said.
To keep proceedings open to the public, many Texas courts are also livestreaming hearings on YouTube.
The city of Dallas has passed extra protections that give tenants an additional 21 days to respond to an eviction notice, followed by 60 days to make outstanding payments or configure other arrangements.