Family court. Not exactly the place to go to learn the etiquette of Zoom. But as we are all trying to adapt to these new times, judges, attorneys and clients all have a lot to learn - quickly – about how to conduct remote hearings.
While the COVID-19 virus transmission is still being studied, the spread of influenza demonstrates how a courtroom can quickly become a contagion site. A minute of just breathing can release 20 respiratory droplets of flu into the air. Speaking increases these droplets to 200 per minute, and coughing multiplies it to 3,000 droplets, traveling at 50 miles an hour. So put a judge, a clerk, a coordinator, a court reporter, the battling couple and at least two attorneys up at the bench, heatedly advocating for their client’s position, and you have a lot of particle matter flying about in a typical family law courtroom.
Even with everyone adhering to masks and social distancing, teleconference and Zoom instead of court may be the “new normal” for some time to come.
You wouldn’t think that having a hearing over video would be all that different from appearing in a courtroom to have your attorney argue that you need child support, access to a bank account, or more parenting time. But as we all know, our lives are radically different. There rights and wrongs to video hearings, and the sooner we adapt, the better for all of us.
In Cook County we've gotten some excellent guidance from Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division, Grace Dickler. Cook County General Order 2020 D 21 addresses “Participation in Remote Court Hearings.” Below are some of the guidelines, incorporated into some general policies we are using and instructing our clients to use.
Even though you can see everyone in a video conference, or especially for a telephone conference, take a roll call. Identify everyone who is participating, and direct that these are the only participants in the call, with no others.
Call on the participants to speak. Video and teleconferences quickly become a free-for-all unless the judge takes the lead.
Give an expectation of the time you anticipate for the conference hearing.
End with a wrap-up of what took place in the video conference, and what you expect to be included in the Order.
FOR THE ATTORNEYS:
Do not speak over each other. The judge should be only one interrupting you, and should be the only one to tell you to stop interrupting.
Stay in camera range.
Minimize background noise and mute your microphone when you aren't speaking.
Silence your phone and computer, incoming calls and the chimes of email and appointment notifications interrupt the Zoom hearing.
FOR THE PARTIES:
Only the judge, court personnel or a certified court reporter can take screenshots or record the proceedings.
No recording, photo or any contemporaneous record of your hearing should ever be posted on any form of social media. Ever.
No minor child is permitted to be in the room, or even within earshot of the court proceedings when you are on Zoom or teleconference. If for some reason this cannot be accommodated, let your attorney know before the hearing.
When the judge says excuse witnesses to start the hearing, follow that order. If your witness listens in on any of the proceedings, you as the client can be sanctioned, including barring that witness from testifying.
If you are on camera, dress appropriately, as you would if you had to personally appear in the courtroom.
While you are testifying, there shall be no communication of any kind. No text messages, emails, or chat functions while you are being questioned. You cannot refer to notes to refresh your memory unless the Court permits you to do so.
We at Ciesla Beeler continue to move cases forward. Contact us to learn how we can help you.
 Dr. Erin Bromage, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, erinbromage.com