In Illinois, most courts will not be fully open to the public and operate for the foreseeable future. Due to this uncertainty, most courts have begun conducting Court via Zoom. Over the last few months, many people have become accustom to teleconferencing for meetings.
During this pandemic, most Cook, Will, Kane and DuPage County judges still prefer to conduct hearings, pretrials and case management conferences via video conferencing software. Zoom has become the default choice for most courthouses in Illinois.
However, court hearings present different challenges for attorneys. . .
Most people know what Zoom is by now, but just to make sure, it is a video conferencing platform that you can use on a web browser or a smartphone app to meet in real time. Zoom has become a valuable tool for courts, educators, and businesses during this time of social distancing. Cases are on the docket and they are moving; however, they are not moving with the same speed as if they were physically being conducted at the courthouse.
The process is sure to evolve in the coming weeks and months, but so far this is what we know:
- Convenience – People do not need to deal with travel time to court, parking or security lines
- Expense – As most attorneys charge their clients for travel time and time in Court waiting for their matter to be before the Judge, most clients are saving money by conducting his/her court conference through Zoom as there is minimal waiting (usually) and no travel time. Both attorney and client (and Judge) may conduct the court conference from the comfort of their own home or office.
- Exhibits – Video conferencing will force attorneys to be better prepared and reach agreements with opposing counsel as to what exhibits will be used and are allowed. Much more emphasis is on settlement in lieu of the Zoom court conference procedure.
- Timing – Courts and litigants are moving forward with hearing and Trial dates; however, court dates are still very backlogged due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and court closures from March and April 2020.
- Witness Credibility – Some judges feel that Zoom allows them to truly assess a witness’s credibility since they are making eye-to-eye contact
- Additional Time and Expense – As we all learn how to manage this new virtual world, it can take attorneys and courts more time to prepare, obtain Court dates and Orders. The Clerks at each Courthouse are completely inundated with electronic Orders, scheduling, and the like. With that, it oftentimes takes days to weeks to obtain a Court Order signed by the Judge. Attorneys and clients must stay patient and understand that there are thousands of cases now being handled remotely, for the first time ever.
- Control – Judges cannot control a virtual courtroom via ZOOM the same way they can a real courtroom, so there if oftentimes some confusion and improper etiquette on the part of litigants.
- Disclosure of Confidential Information – You may need to share confidential information in family law hearings. Will hackers figure out that trolling court hearings is a good way to gain access to account numbers and birth dates? Judges have tried to lessen this chance by allowing “break out” rooms for certain cases and holding other Zoom attendees in the “waiting” room util his/her case is ready to be heard.
- Judging Witness Demeanor – It may be harder to judge witness demeanor when not in-person
- Protecting the Integrity of Testimony- This is difficult as the witness is not present and is able to use his/her cell phone, have individuals present in the room, and access to other devices and/or documents that would not otherwise be accessible from the witness stand in Court.
- Safety in Domestic Violence Cases – For parties that are residing in the same home, it may be dangerous for domestic violence survivors to safely participate in court hearings.
Zoom is becoming the “new normal” and many legal professionals suspect that Zoom will forever change the courtroom dynamic. Whether that is a good or bad thing, it is still up for debate.