In re John Sakyi

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00574-CV (August 20, 2020)
Chief Justice Burns and Justices Pedersen, III and Reichek (Opinion available here)

The fact that you don’t want to conduct your bench trial via videoconference in order to maintain social distancing is not a valid basis for continuance. In this mandamus proceeding arising out of a divorce case, the Dallas Court of Appeals found that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the husband’s motion for continuance based on his need to conduct additional discovery into whether his purported wife was still married to another man at the time of their wedding. But the Court rejected the husband’s other basis for requesting a continuance—that he did not consent to participate in the bench trial via videoconference. He also expressed concern about his counsel’s inability to talk to him without violating social distancing recommendations.

The Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by overruling the husband’s objection to trial via videoconference. In its emergency orders, the Supreme Court of Texas expressly granted trial courts the discretion, “subject only to constitutional limitations” and “without a participant’s consent,” to require that all participants in hearings, depositions, “or other proceeding[s] of any kind” participate remotely, “such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means.” Although the emergency orders do not specify bench trials, the Court held they would fall under the category of “other proceeding[s] of any kind.” The husband did not claim a bench trial by videoconference would violate any of his constitutional rights, so the trial court did not abuse its discretion in requiring him to participate in this manner.