By Lori K. Shemtob, Esq. and Cynthia Weiss Stein, Esq.

Due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, courts have had to shift many of their longstanding procedures. One of the practices recently enstated has been that of virtual court hearings. Below we have pulled together some tips on how to testify virtually on Zoom.

 

Before your court date:

  • The Tech
    • Make sure you have a reliable connection to the internet.
    • If you have a computer or iPad, use it. The larger screen will allow you to see all participants, which may not be possible on your phone.
    • Download the Zoom app or visit the website and run a test meeting to make sure you can access your Zoom meeting when it occurs.
    •  Make sure your video camera and microphone work. You can test them in the Zoom app.
    • Practice ahead of time and make sure you know how to use Zoom. Learn how to use Zoom’s features.
    • Zoom should be used through only one device at a time to avoid feedback.
  • The Room:
    • Your environment should be tidy and not distracting. Using the Zoom testing feature or your computer’s camera to view the room behind you and make adjustments in advance. Do not count on being able to use a virtual background. Some courts are not allowing them.
    • Arrange your lighting so it will be in front of your face rather than behind you. If a light (or window) is behind you, there will be a shadow on your face that will make it hard for the judge and your lawyer to see you.
    • Situate the camera so that you can be seen from about mid-chest to the top of your head. Use a desk or table for your device so it will remain stable when you are in virtual court – do not hold it in your lap. If you have a laptop or iPad, you may want to prop it up on a stack of books so the camera is pointed directly at your face, rather than tilting the screen, which can result in an unfavorable camera angle (looking up your nose). Practice looking into the camera (and not at yourself on screen).
    • Make sure you have a quiet place from which to participate in the conference or hearing where you will not be interrupted or distracted. Arrange for your children and pets to be cared for in another room during your virtual court appearance. If you are concerned about ambient noise in your home, wear headphones.

On your court date before your conference or hearing:

  •  Test everything about a half hour before your court time so as to ensure you can connect at the appointed time.
  • Silence your phone and notifications on the device you are using before you enter the Zoom conference.
  • Dress appropriately for court including the bottom half of your body. A judge may ask you to rise – you don’t want to be wearing your pajamas

During your court appearance:

  •  Treat your virtual court appearance with the same respect you would give an in-person court appearance. Call the judge “Your Honor.” Don’t interrupt when other witnesses are talking (although your attorney may interrupt to object).
  • Don’t do other things during the Zoom conference.
    • Don’t text or email. Don’t use your phone unless you have permission to do so.
    • Don’t eat or chew gum. No food or drink should be on camera at any time, except that with permission, you may drink water (which should be kept off camera) while testifying, as you would in an actual courtroom.
    • Don’t adjust your appearance, put on lipstick, or arrange hair or clothing while on camera.
  • Make sure your face appears on the screen as planned throughout the entire court proceeding and that the camera has not slipped showing only the top of your head (or only your chest).
  • While the other person is testifying, no matter how strongly you may disagree, don’t react. This is good advice for court in general, but on Zoom, the effect of this is magnified. Everyone’s face is on screen and expressions such as frowning, shaking your head “no,” or rolling your eyes, are even more apparent than when in person.
  • There should be no interruptions, no children or pets in the room, and no other adults in the room. Put a “do not disturb” sign on your door to remind your family not to knock.

The divorce and family law attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor can guide you through all of your divorce and family law matters including custody issues. Contact our family lawyers for a confidential discussion.

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