It's in your court: Zoom hearing decorum

A few years ago, a group of first and second graders from Discovery School in Buffalo visited my courtroom. Well, it certainly is not my courtroom because just as my position as a judge is currently my honor due to the choice of the voters in the last election, it was my courtroom on that day only because it was assigned to me. When I entered the courtroom, the bailiff said in a loud voice, “All rise! Wright County District Court is now in session. The Honorable Stephen M. Halsey presiding.” After I said all could be seated I explained why we do that.

I explained to the students that they and their teachers were asked to stand, not because I am someone special, but rather out of respect for our courts. You may have heard that a defendant in a criminal trial in federal court in Rochester refused to stand when the judge and jury entered the courtroom several times on the first day of trial. She was found in direct contempt of court and sentenced to sit in jail during the trial. The judge warned her that her continued refusal to stand may result in her observing the proceedings from another room via closed-circuit television.

How life has changed during this Covid-19 pandemic. We have had few hearings in-person in court though matters are slowing moving back into the courthouse. Nearly all hearings are conducted remotely via Zoom or similar technology. As a result, some litigants are ignoring recognized standards of conduct during court hearings. Here are but a few examples of behavior by litigants (without attorneys) in remote hearings:

1. Smoking and using profanity during a misdemeanor criminal hearing.

2. After hearing the court’s decision in a harassment hearing replying, “That’s b__________t!”

3. Drinking a can of pop, smoking, and wearing a baseball cap during a DWI hearing.

4. When asked for his mailing address, a defendant shouted “Heh, Ma, what’s my address?”

5. A male defendant showing up shirtless on video.

In summary, if you are appearing in a remote hearing via Zoom, be attired and act as if you were in the courthouse. Avoid the conduct noted above. Be in a quiet room without distractions such as barking dogs or traffic noise. Test your access to the hearing as directed in the notice from the court. You will provide the court and participants with a better view of you if you do not have a bright window or lights behind or above you. Mute your microphone until the court asks you to speak. Contact the court prior to your hearing if you have any issues with remote access. If you do come to the courthouse you will be required to wear a mask. Be safe.

JUDGE STEVE HALSEY,  Wright County District Court, is chambered in Buffalo and is the host of “The District Court Show” on local cable TV public access channels throughout the Tenth Judicial District. Excerpts can be viewed at WWW.QCTV.org. Go to Community and click “The District Court Show.” 

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