PBA President Creates Task Force to Develop Recommendations Updating Legal Processes and Technology to Enable Continuation of Pa. Legal System in Times of Emergency

HARRISBURG (July 13, 2020) — In one of his first actions as the head of the association, Pennsylvania Bar Association President David E. Schwager formed a 29-person task force to develop recommendations to update processes and technology to enable the legal system to continue to operate under emergencies similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic made evident that not all courts, government offices and law firms were prepared for the remote practice of law, remote court proceedings and other legal processes,” said Schwager. “While many courts and government offices in Pennsylvania have the technology to provide secure electronic filing and video capabilities, many do not.”

Named the Joint Task Force on Continuity of Delivery of Legal Services, the diverse group is chaired by Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie (retired from U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals) of counsel with Stevens and Lee, Philadelphia, and brings together representatives of the PBA, Pennsylvania Association for Justice, Pennsylvania Defense Institute, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges.

Joining Schwager and Vanaskie on the task force are the following members:

  • Rita G. Alexyn, Rita G Alexyn Law Office, Mansfield
  • Ellen D. Bailey, Deputy General Counsel, Stockton University Office of General Counsel, Galloway, N.J.
  • Jason M. Banonis, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Allentown
  • Sharon Barney, Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl LLC, State College
  • Katherine E. Bavoso, Cipriani & Werner PC, Lemoyne
  • Brian J. Cali, Brian J. Cali & Associates, Dunmore
  • Mary Kate Coleman, Riley Hewitt Witte & Romano PC, Pittsburgh
  • Danielle M. Conway, Dean, Penn State University Dickinson Law, Carlisle
  • Scott B. Cooper, Schmidt Kramer PC, Harrisburg
  • Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove (ret.), Selingo Guagliardo LLC, Wilkes-Barre
  • Brian L. Deiderick, Lebanon County Public Defender, Lebanon
  • Jill R. Fowler, Heckscher Teillon Terrill & Sager PC, West Conshohocken
  • Philip B. Friedman, Conner Riley Friedman & Weichler, Erie
  • Philip Gelso, Law Offices of Philip Gelso, Kingston
  • James L. Goldsmith, Mette Evans & Woodside PC, Harrisburg
  • David M. Landay, David M. Landay, Attorney at Law, Pittsburgh
  • Max W. Laun, Retired General Counsel, Alcoa, Pittsburgh
  • Mary Lou Maierhofer, Margolis Edelstein, Hollidaysburg
  • Kimberly F. Makoul, Lehigh County Public Defender, Allentown
  • Judge Terrence R. Nealon, Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, Scranton
  • Sudhir R. Patel, Fanelli Evans & Patel PC, Pottsville
  • Mark J. Powell, Lackawanna County District Attorney, Scranton
  • Amber M. Racine, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer, Philadelphia
  • Regan S. Safier, Kline & Specter PC, Philadelphia
  • Mark B. Sheppard, Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzberg LLP, Philadelphia
  • Maraleen D. Shields, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba P.C., Allentown
  • Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, Philadelphia

The task force’s first priority is to collect as much data as possible to help identify areas of focus. Vanaskie asked Friedman to convene a subcommittee to create a survey to send to key stakeholders and others about the challenges they faced throughout the shutdown and any concerns going forward. It will include questions about technology, training, wellness and support.

“We are hoping it shows us where the difficulties are and helps us see how we can overcome those. Is it technology or is it training? What rules might need to be changed? How can remote proceedings work best?,” Vanaskie said.

In addition, Vanaskie created three other subcommittees: civil practice, criminal practice and omnibus matters. Led by Safier, the civil practice subcommittee will study the suspension of jury trials and how to overcome that problem. The criminal subcommittee, which is chaired by Sheppard, will examine problems and obstacles encountered in conducting proceedings remotely. Chaired by Laun, the omnibus matters subcommittee will examine the needs to keep the legal system moving.

Differences between counties will make the task force’s efforts more of a challenge. “There is a lack of consistency among the various court systems in Pennsylvania in their processes and ability to continue operations,” Vanaskie said. “What is clear is that law offices, government offices and all courts must be prepared to continue to operate on a seamless basis, even in the face of a crisis.”

“Everyone has seen the impact the pandemic has had. Our citizens and business communities must have access to the legal services they need at all times — especially in a time of crisis. The task force will work to make that possible,” Schwager said.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state's largest organized bar association.