- Kathryn O'Leary, Esq.
Do's and Don'ts for Court Appearances using Zoom
There is no question that we have been operating in an altered state of reality since COVID-19 forced us into quarantine. Being home around the clock, working remotely and social isolation have blurred the lines between work and personal time. Zoom calls are so ubiquitous that people jump on line without checking to make sure they look presentable.
State and federal courts are conducting almost all sessions and hearings remotely. I have done two court-led mediations in addition to numerous motion sessions on Zoom since March. It's important to remember that a Zoom call in lieu of an in-person hearing IS THE SAME AS BEING IN COURT. An appropriate level of decorum must be observed at all times.
Here are some of the things I have seen that should be avoided:
An inappropriate screen name. Make sure the funny/inside joke nickname that you use during Zoom calls with friends does not display during a court proceeding. The same is true of screen saving pictures.
Dress appropriately - anyone in your house who might have helpful testimony may be called upon to testify during a Zoom hearing. In the old days when we physically went to court for hearings anyone who wasn't present in the courthouse could not testify. Now, with parties making Zoom court appearances from their own living rooms, anyone who is home and who has knowledge may be a witness. Make sure everyone is out of their pajamas and dressed appropriately before the hearing starts.
Beware of external factors when you choose where to take the Zoom call for the hearing. Bear in mind that other people on the call - including the judge - can see what's behind you wherever you are. They can hear background noise too like dogs barking or lawns being mowed. Choose your spot wisely and, if necessary, consider taking the Zoom call from your carefully parked car. You also should not partake of the comforts of home during the Zoom hearing. Eating, drinking and smoking while on camera are not good ideas.
The best way to prepare for a Zoom hearing is to go through the same formalities that you would adhere to for an in-Court appearance. Getting up in adequate time to be ready, grooming and dressing as you would for any important event, and eliminating all distractions will not only mean that your physical appearance is appropriate, it also cultivates mental sharpness and focus.