What to Expect for Court Appearances During the Pandemic
The world keeps turning. Yes, even during a pandemic, life finds a way to keep happening. This includes filing lawsuits, taking depositions and even trials and other court appearances during the pandemic. Like most things in the increasingly annoying 2020, going to court looks a little different than it used to.
Most courts, including those in Missouri, have reopened in phases. According to the Missouri Supreme Court’s mandated COVID-19 procedures, each phase must be in effect for 14 days before moving on to the next phase. In Phase Zero, all in person proceedings except for emergency proceedings have been suspended. In Phase One, ten people are allowed in a courtroom at a time. In addition, there are mask mandates and other social distancing guidelines in place. Phase Two allows 25 people in a courtroom and Phase Three sees a return to normal procedures with social distancing.
After a brief move to Phase One, several positive COVID-19 cases were recorded at courthouses. As I write this, both St. Louis City and County courts have returned to “Phase Zero.” So, what counts as an emergency proceeding? Emergency child custody issues, grand jury proceedings and certain criminal cases that are considered “essential.” That leaves the majority of cases categorized as non-essential.
Luckily, the courts, judges, court personnel and attorneys have worked hard to keep the system moving in some form. In retrospect, it is amazing how quickly all have adapted to the new normal. After the initial growing pains, just about everything other than trials have resumed. Web-X, Zoom and regular telephone conferences have replaced in person court appearances and even depositions for court appearances during the pandemic. These types of appearances can be tricky as there can be a learning curve, but video and teleconferencing are quickly becoming second nature to all involved.
If you do find yourself needing to appear for court via Zoom or other video technology, here are some tips to ensure success:
Meet with your attorney ahead of time. Video appearances require the same level of preparedness. Whether you meet your attorney in person, on the telephone or via Zoom ahead of the scheduled appearance, preparation is key.
Test the technology. Many courthouses and attorneys have access to technology specialists. The specialists can send a practice link ahead of time. In addition, will you need to share anything with the court or your lawyer? If so, try doing so ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with how the technology works. Practice muting your audio and turning off the camera, so you are prepared to utilize those functions during your “appearance” if needed.
Prepare your “courtroom.” Not only is a quiet space needed, a space that is free of interruptions is preferable. When you practice, try using a microphone as opposed to the built-in computer microphone which will pick up background noise. Ensure your background shows something neutral. If you cannot be in a place that looks professional, try downloading an office or plain background ahead of time.
Maintain courtroom decorum. Participants often mistake the inability to go to a physical courthouse with the idea that a video proceeding is informal. It is not. Video court appearances before a judge, opposing counsel, potential jurors, court personnel and even your own attorney, are just that, court appearances. Treat them with the same respect and gravity you would an in-person appearance. Make sure to appropriately dress and talk for the occasion. Do not waste a chance to positively impact your case with a good impression.