A Texas judge issued an “important Zoom tip” after a lawyer accidentally used a cat filter during a virtual hearing.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One woman appeared naked over Zoom for her virtual eviction hearing.
Another showed up for her remote court appearance while she was getting her hair done at the beauty parlor.
Louisville Attorney Kimberly Withers Daleure wrote on Facebook she sat through an entire parental rights termination hearing where the father sat in bed shirtless.
And Kentucky lawyer Erin Pippin said she had a client – now a former client – appear poolside in her bikini for her virtual hearing, while another client remotely attended a mediation hearing drinking a beer.
Welcome to court – pandemic style.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging, courthouses across the nation have gone to virtual hearings conducted over the internet – sometimes with hilarious results.
Who will forget the now-viral Zoom video of Texas attorney Rod Ponton, who couldn’t remove the cat filter from his face during a virtual court hearing, as a wide-eyed kitty mimicked his words to the judge: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”
“I can see that,” the nonplussed judge responded.
Zoom filters gone wrong: Lawyer tells judge ‘I’m not a cat’ during kitten filter mishap
A Texas lawyer was stuck with a talking cat filter on his face during a virtual court hearing, telling the judge, “I’m not a cat.” (Photo: Twitter)
Truthfully, though, the world of remote court hearings often isn’t a laughing matter.
In July, criminal defense attorney Rob Eggert said a judge in Kentucky, Audra Eckerle, electronically “muzzled” him during a remotely conducted hearing by repeatedly muting him while she let the prosecutor attend in person.
His motion to recuse her was denied.
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The perils of Zoom hearings
Experts say they fear remote hearings give an unfair advantage to large law firms that can pay for good lighting and stable Internet connections – and that litigants can now be judged not just on their appearance – but the appearance of their homes.
Eggert and other lawyers also say virtual proceedings are no replacement for the right to confront witnesses guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
But the bloopers and blunders of virtual hearings have provided comic relief during an otherwise bleak and dismal year.
In San Francisco, an employment lawyer popped into a federal court videoconference framed by majestic virtual sunbeams. He apologized to the judge, saying he’d been at a Zoom happy hour and didn’t know how to turn off the background – a beautiful Kansas sunset.
Don’t worry, U.S District Judge Vince Chhabria told him. “Kansas sunsets are perfectly welcome here.”
In Broward County, Florida, after a female attorney appeared still under the bed covers, and a male lawyer shirtless, Judge Dennis Bailey admonished the local bar to get out of bed and put on a shirt.
Courts in Sacramento, California, went so far as to put out an etiquette guide advising lawyers to dress appropriately and avoid displaying anything in the background that could be perceived as offensive.
In a Facebook post Dec. 10, Kentucky District Judge Julie Kaelin reported what she called a “Zoom first” – an attorney “clearly enjoying a cigar” while cases were being called.
“Good for that guy,” she wrote. “I tell ya, there are so many things you couldn’t do during court in 2019 that you can do now.
“Welcome to the future.”
Attorney Thomas McAdam puffs a cigar during a remote probate hearing. (Photo: Jefferson District Court)
Responding on Facebook to Kaelin’s post about the cigar-smoking lawyer, attorney Ashlea Nicole Hellmann said she was on a remote hearing when a defendant forgot to stash his meth pipe. It was visible on a table behind him.
Kentucky Attorney Tish Morris said she had a client who had been in a car wreck – and did her Zoom deposition while driving.
And fellow Attorney Jillian Hall said she participated in a remote hearing in which a defendant appeared in his bedroom wearing no pants. Hall confessed she was wearing a pair of bright green yoga pants herself at the time.
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Problems elsewhere have gone beyond ill dress or grooming.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, Zoom-bombers from around the world hacked into a hearing on the guardianship of a 12-year-old with vulgarities and porn, according to press accounts.
And in Tampa, Florida, a bond hearing for 17-year-old Graham Clark, who was charged in July with the mass hack of Twitter’s internal computer systems, was cut short after fellow hackers injected a porn video clip into the proceeding.
Kentucky Attorney Karen Faulkner said one of the biggest problems in remote court hearings is people who forget to turn off their microphones – making “side conversations dangerous.”
She said during a one court matter, someone said, “This is f—ing stupid.” The judge heard it too – but couldn’t tell who said it, so everyone was reprimanded.
Menawhile, Kentucky judge Jennifer Leibson said she got in a “mute war” with a defendant who kept unmuting himself “despite me telling him numerous times to stop.”
But remote hearings aren’t all bad, said Burke, the Jefferson District judge, especially in mental health cases.
They are less intimidating to the patients, who are already distressed, and don’t need to be transferred to the courthouse or to appear with a bunch of strangers.
“It’s a more compassionate way of handling those dockets, and I expect we will continue to utilize remote platforms in those cases even after COVID restrictions are lifted,” she said.
Follow reporter Andrew Wolfson on Twitter: @adwolfson.
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