Many courts are using remote (virtual) hearings for some kinds of court dates. A remote hearing uses video software, like Zoom. In some situations, parties might use the audio-only features of the program to participate. Some hearings are hybrid hearings, meaning that some people are in the courtroom while others use phone or video. Read this article to learn how to attend a remote hearing.
Every court handles hearings differently. The information here is general. If you have an upcoming hearing, you may want to visit your court’s website to read any information they have about their hearing process. You can also call ahead to ask any questions you have about the process for your hearing. Select your county on the Courts and Agencies page to find contact information for your court.
The instructions in this article have information about attending hearings using Zoom. Zoom is a very common remote hearing application. If your court uses different video meeting software, the general rules about how remote hearings work will still apply. However, you may need to contact your court for instructions.
How Do I Know If I Have a Remote Hearing?
If the court plans to hold a remote hearing, it should tell all of the people involved and make sure that they can attend remotely. The notice of hearing should have information about how to join the remote hearing, including any links, phone numbers, or passwords you will need. If you are missing any of this information, contact the court so that you are prepared to attend the hearing. Use the Courts and Agencies page to find contact information for your court.
If you get a notice of hearing and are not sure if it is a remote or in-person hearing, contact the court as soon as possible to find out how to attend.
What If There Is a Technical Issue During a Remote Hearing?
If anyone has an issue with technology during the hearing that keeps them from being able to participate, the court must reschedule the hearing. The court will notify all participants of the rescheduled date and time and will include information about whether the rescheduled hearing will be held in-person or remotely. The rule about technology failures does not say how the court must give the updated hearing information. If you have a hearing and there are technology issues, watch your phone, email, and mail very closely for updates. You may also want to contact the court to make sure you do not miss any scheduling updates. Use the Courts and Agencies page to find contact information for your court.
What If I Need an In-Person Hearing?
If you have a remote hearing, the court must allow you to attend in person if you ask. The court rules that say you have a right to ask for an in-person hearing do not say how to do this. Some courts may allow you to call on the phone to ask, other courts might have you ask in writing. If you will have any trouble participating in a remote hearing, contact the court as soon as you can to find out how you can attend in person. Use the Courts and Agencies page to find contact information for your court.
If you have a phone but not video access, contact your court. You may still be able to participate in your hearing by phone even if others join by video but some courts may not allow this. Even if your court will allow a phone-only appearance you may want to consider asking to go in person. For some hearings, a phone-only connection may be fine. In other situations, it can be difficult to follow the conversation and know who is speaking. A phone-only connection also makes it difficult to share documents or photos during a hearing.
Getting Ready for a Remote Hearing
You can use Zoom on a computer or mobile device. You can either download the Zoom app or join from a web browser without downloading any plugins or software. To download Zoom on your computer, visit the Zoom download page. You can also get the app for your phone or tablet from the App Store (for Apple products) or from Google Play. Download Zoom well before your scheduled hearing. It can take some time to download and finish setting up. You can make a Zoom account and do a test for free. Learn how to do a Zoom test meeting below in the “Using Zoom” section.
On the day of your hearing, make sure that your device is charged and that you have a charger nearby in case the hearing takes a long time. If you are participating by phone only, make sure you have enough minutes on your phone. Plan to call in or log in early. Turning on your computer, getting to a web page, and starting a video conference may take longer than you expect. Try to be in a quiet place where no one will interrupt you so you can participate in the hearing alone.
Attending a Remote Hearing
The hearing probably won’t start the moment you join. Instead, you may be in a virtual “waiting room.” The judge will bring you into the hearing from the “waiting room.” Some courts schedule individual hearings for specific times, and while there may be some wait, you can expect your hearing to happen around the scheduled time. Other courts schedule everyone for the day in one or two time slots. Even though you must be sure to be there on time, it may take hours for the judge to call your case. For example, if you have a hearing at 9:00 a.m. it is possible that there are many other cases scheduled at 9:00 a.m., and it may be closer to the middle of the day when you are called.
Once the judge calls your case, everyone involved in the hearing will appear on the screen. The remote hearing may be recorded. Members of the public can watch a live stream of the hearing the same way that members of the public can go into a courthouse and watch proceedings. Your hearing may also be available on the internet so that the public can watch it later.
The judge or other court staff will be the host of the Zoom meeting. This means they control the meeting and can restrict some features. The judge can remove people from the hearing if they are being disruptive or not following instructions. The judge may also limit the ability to chat during the hearing. If you send a chat during the hearing, it may be visible to everyone.
The court recorder will be taking notes to make a transcript of the hearing. To help with the transcription process, speak slowly and do not interrupt anyone else. There might be a slight time delay, so you may accidentally overlap when talking. If so, the judge may ask you to repeat yourself.
Even though you are attending the hearing from home or another location, you should treat the hearing as seriously as if you were in a physical courthouse. It is important to make a good impression when you are in court, but the most important thing is to go to the hearing. Here are some guidelines to follow, if you can:
- Dress like you’re going to a job interview. You do not need to buy a suit or spend money on new clothes for court, but dress nicely;
- Sit in front of a solid neutral background, if possible. Everyone viewing the hearing will be able to see whatever is on your camera;
- Mute yourself when you’re not speaking to avoid background noise;
- If you are attending only by phone without video, say your name before you speak so that the rest of the participants know it is you;
- Use a headset or headphones with a built-in microphone if you have one that works with your device;
- Make sure you have all paperwork you might need to look at during the hearing;
- Check your lighting. Avoid very bright or very dark rooms, or bright light behind you;
- If you are using a phone or tablet, try to securely prop it up so you can look directly at it without holding it by hand;
- Pause before speaking just in case there is an audio or video lag. This will help you make sure you do not speak over anyone.
Judges have also reported seeing some of the following things in remote hearings and so as a reminder:
- Do not attend a remote hearing from your bed, a moving vehicle, or any other location that a judge might find questionable. If you have no other option, do your best to explain. For example, you could say as part of your introduction, “Good morning judge, I’m sorry that I’m appearing from work today. I could not take any time off and this break room was my only option;”
- Do not drink alcohol or smoke during your remote hearing;
- Make sure family members, roommates, and others know that you have an important court date so that they can avoid walking through the background of the hearing;
- Do your best to have someone available to take care of pets and children during the hearing. If you have no other option, you can explain at the beginning of the hearing by saying something like, “Good afternoon judge. I have my son home sick from school today and could not find anyone available to help with him. I am still able to proceed.”
The video below has some more information about attending a Zoom hearing.
Zoom is video meeting software that many courts use for remote hearings. If your court does not use Zoom, contact the court if you need any help understanding how to use their system. You can use Zoom on a phone, tablet, or computer. You can use a smartphone to join by video. If you have a phone that is not a smartphone or if you do not have access to internet, you can join a Zoom meeting by dialing in. This option will let you hear and speak, but you will not have access to the video stream. If you only have a dial-in phone option, you may want to ask to attend in person.
For instructions on downloading and using Zoom, visit Zoom’s Getting started guide for new users. If you have never used Zoom or if it has been a while, you may want to try a test Zoom meeting before your hearing. To do this, visit zoom.us/test and click “Join.” In the test meeting, you can make sure your speakers and microphone work, and there are no internet connection problems.
Before your hearing, the court will send you instructions on how to get to your remote hearing. These instructions will include a link, a telephone number, and Meeting ID that you need to join the hearing. Some instructions may also include a password. If you are missing any of this information, contact the court. Do not wait until the hearing time. Contact the court as far ahead of the hearing as possible if you notice any missing information.
On the day and time of your hearing, go to the link the court sent you. Before you join the meeting, you will be asked to enter your name. Enter your full name and any other information the court has asked you to provide.
To join a Zoom meeting by phone using only audio, use the phone number in the instructions the court sent you. Once you dial the number, you will be asked for the Meeting ID. Enter the Meeting ID in the instructions you received from the court followed by the “#” key.
Zoom Features that May Be Used in Your Hearing
The judge or another court staff person will be the host. They have control of the meeting and can restrict certain features. You may be required to use some features. Below are common features you might use in a Zoom hearing.
You can join a Zoom meeting by video if your device has a camera. When you join a meeting, you will be prompted to connect your video. Once connected, you can turn your video camera on and off with the video button at the bottom of the screen. If you turn off your video, your name will be displayed (instead of your image) on the screen for everyone else.
You can mute and unmute yourself with the microphone button at the bottom of the screen. When you join a meeting, you will be prompted to connect your audio by computer or telephone. Once connected, when the hearing begins the other participants will be able to hear you and anything else happening around you. It is also possible for the court to mute you. You can also mute your phone like you would for any regular call. You may want to mute yourself when you are not speaking so that your microphone does not pick up background noise.
Zoom has a chat feature that allows people to send messages to one another during the proceeding. You can send a chat message to everyone in the meeting or privately to just the host or another participant (like your lawyer). The judge may restrict or limit the chat function.
Be careful when using the chat feature as it is easy to accidentally send something to the whole group when you meant to send it to just one person, such as your lawyer.
Zoom has a breakout room feature where participants can have private conversations separate from the main meeting room.
You should be allowed to talk to your lawyer (if you have one) privately in the Zoom hearing by meeting in a breakout room. Breakout rooms are not audio or video recorded unless a host or co-host who is recording is in the breakout room. You will be able to see who is in your breakout room. You can also see whether the room is being recorded by looking in the upper left corner of the screen. If it is being recorded, the word “recording” will appear there.
The judge may also send you to a breakout room to negotiate with the other party to see if you can come to an agreement about how to settle the case.
The judge may limit the amount of time you can spend in a breakout room. The judge will bring you back to the main meeting room when the time is up, or you can rejoin the hearing when you are done meeting.