Remote Zoom Courtroom Hearings: Tips and Best Practices for Witness and Client Participation.

The use of Zoom and other digital, web-based or video conferencing technology has become widespread throughout courts in the United States, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. With glaring uncertainty on when courts will revert to conducting hearings and trials in-person, it is important to highlight some basic tips and best practices for our readers who may participate in Zoom hearings.

Currently, almost all landlord-tenant matters, which many housing cooperative cases fall under, are being conducted by Zoom or other video remote technologies. While specific protocol, policies and guidelines may differ from court to court, there are several things everyone can do to familiarize themselves with this technological shift, and the responsibilities that parties, witnesses or deponents to litigation cases may be required to adapt.

Below are some tips and best practices to ensure a smooth transition in the use of Zoom and video-based hearings.

General Considerations:

Although you may be participating in hearings from the comfort of your home or office, it is important to continue to afford the court the proper decorum and etiquette as though you are in the courtroom. Some things should not change:

  • Be on time for your case.
  • Dress appropriately, or in business attire. Avoid casual attire or “loungewear.”
  • Chose a suitable place in your home or office for participation. Don’t participate in Zoom hearings from your bed, bathroom or outdoor patio.
  • Avoid interrupting or speaking over others.
  • Turn off all other noise making devices, and diminish or limit any outside distractions and noises (i.e., barking dogs, fans, radio, etc.). Other audio distractions can be easily avoided by “muting” your microphone during times in which you are not speaking.
  • Make sure your room or office has good lighting. Avoid rooms with bright or back- lighting.

Technical Responsibilities and Requirements:

Unfortunately, internet service, software and hardware for use in remote Zoom hearings is not uniform. However, it is very important to ensure that you have the basic hardware (i.e., computer, laptop, cellular phone, etc.) and video-based functions (i.e., cameras) to be able to participate both audibly and visibly. While courts sometimes provide basic information and protocol on their websites, they generally do not provide technical assistance or troubleshooting for equipment or connection issues.

Participants should, prior to the hearing, take the time to become familiar with Zoom, directions, tutorials, support and technical requirements. This information can be found for free on https://zoom.us. In addition to ensuring you have the proper equipment and internet connection, use these tips for a more seamless Zoom experience:

  • Use a good LAN, WiFi or substantial LTE connection to ensure a good connection.
  • Run microphone or video checks prior to your hearing to ensure good audio and video functions.
  • Computers and laptops are preferred over cell phones.

Connecting to the Zoon Hearing:

With most courts conducting hearings through Zoom, once you are ready to make your virtual/remote appearance (preferably 5-10 minutes prior to the scheduled time), you will need to access Zoom (https://zoom.us). If you have not registered a Zoom account, register and create your account. Registering your Zoom account is easy, quick and free. It is very important to use your full name when registering your account. When you join a meeting, the host will view your name. If you list your Zoom name with nickname, initials or other name, you may experience difficulty being admitted into Zoom hearings.

Once you have registered your Zoom account, you will need to join a zoom meeting. To join a meeting, click the “Join a Meeting” icon on the main page. You will then be directed to enter a “Meeting ID.” In most cases, the Meeting ID for the courtroom proceeding will be provided to parties in the following ways:

  • Listed in a Notice of Appearance sent by the Court or other instructions provided by the Court;
  • Listed on the Court’s website.
  • Listed on the Judge’s Courtroom Protocol, typically on the court’s website.

However, if participants are represented by legal counsel, you should always check with your attorney beforehand to confirm the date, time and Meeting ID for the Zoom hearing.

You’re In! How to Conduct Yourself During the Zoom Proceedings:

Now that you’re prepared for the hearing, have attained all technological requirements, and have entered your Meeting ID, the court or judge’s clerk will let you in to the meeting room. In many cases, the court clerk will ask what case you are attending, so be prepared to provide that information to the clerk. Some court’s use the “Chat” function, in which you may type your name, case name and case number that you are appearing in. Once you have gained access to the court’s Zoom meeting room, here are a few important reminders for how to conduct yourself at the hearing.

  • Position your camera at eye level or slightly above eye level.
  • Be mindful of what is behind you. Choose a neutral background.
  • Have proper lighting, ideally light should be facing you, not facing the camera.
  • Mute your sound when not speaking to eliminate background noises.
  • Unmute only when necessary to speak.
  • State your full name and the case that you are appearing in.
  • Avoid rustling papers or other extraneous noises.
  • Speak one at a time to avoid multiple people speaking over one another. When a case is “on the record” the court is making a record of those proceedings. It is difficult for a court reporter to transcribe multiple people speaking at the same time.
  • Spell proper names.
  • If using a mobile devise, avoid frequent moving or jostling. Lay the phone on a flat surface to attain proper camera angles.

Conclusion:

We do not know how long courts will continue to utilize remote, Zoom hearings in the conducting of court business and litigation cases. It is, however, likely to continue during the coronavirus pandemic, and perhaps further into the future depending on whether courts will view the use of Zoom and remote hearings a benefit to the progress of cases on their dockets.

Matthew T. Nicols is an associate attorney at the Pentiuk, Couvreur & Kobiljak, P.C., with offices in Wyandotte, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. Nicols focuses his practice primarily in areas of cooperative housing law, and other community and condominium association law.

Please note this content is provided to our readers for educational purposes but it is not intended and should not be regarded as legal advice. Readers are encouraged to consult with competent legal counsel for personalized guidance.

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