At least for the foreseeable future, it appears that video conferencing apps such as Zoom will be a part of the legal landscape. When the worldwide pandemic hit early this year, everyone and everything was affected, including the court systems in Chicago and all Northern Illinois counties such as Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will, Kane and McHenry. In response to the Covid outbreak, criminal and traffic courts incorporated Zoom into their procedures as a way of limiting exposure in the courthouses and maintaining social distancing. Some court systems are using Zoom almost exclusively, while others are employing a mix of in-person and video conferencing to accomplish their goals of limiting the spread of illness. But although the approaches may differ between Chicago and Joliet and between Waukegan and St Charles, if you are a criminal or traffic defendant, you should keep the following things in mind as you prepare for appearing in Zoom court:
- Check Your Court Date – Since early March when the pandemic first impacted our legal system, courts have been rescheduling court dates for a wide variety of number of reasons. At first, dates were rescheduled because the courthouses were closed entirely. Later, dates were reset in order to space cases out so that there wouldn’t be too many people in the courtroom at the same time due to social distancing concerns. Depending on the county involved, sometimes the clerk of the circuit court is very good at informing defendants of new court dates. Some clerks will send postcards, letters or even texts. But again, depending on the county, some court clerks are quite frankly, awful at informing defendants (and attorneys) of such changes. So, check your court date by contacting the court clerk. Then before your court date, check again as that date may have changed without notice.
- Confirm Whether it’s Zoom – Not all cases are handled by Zoom and some still require in-person court attendance. In some counties, minor traffic cases are still in person. In others, only domestic battery and felony cases are in person. Some courts are conducting all their plea agreements, trials and hearings in person, while in others, these matters are all handled on Zoom. There is absolutely no standard procedure that is true for all the courthouses in Northern Illinois. Chicago could not be any different than DuPage and Kane is entirely different than Will. So, check and then double check whether your case is to be in person or by Zoom. What may be true on Monday may be different on Thursday.
- Be Prepared to Zoom – If you’re a seasoned Zoomer, you’ll have no problem. Just make sure to get the “Meeting ID” and Password from either the court clerk or your attorney well ahead of time. You won’t be able to get into the courtroom otherwise. If you’re unfamiliar with this app, you’ll need to check it out ahead of time and either have someone show you how it works or go online and see for yourself. You can google “Zoom Test” and you’ll be taken to a fake meeting where you can experiment with the controls and see how it functions. It’s a free app by the way. If you have any doubts that you’re going to be able to get online for your Zoom Court, you should strongly consider coming into your attorney’s office while he or she Zooms on your behalf. After all, failing to appear online is pretty much the same thing as not going to court. Depending on the circumstances, a failure to appear may result in a warrant for your arrest.
- Mute Yourself – Most Zoom courtrooms are set up to automatically mute you upon entrance. That’s good, but they’re not always set up that way. So, immediately upon entering the Zoom courtroom, check that the microphone button is in the mute position. Don’t say anything until you make sure of this. If it’s not on “mute”, then click the microphone icon until the red line appears in front of the microphone. Then listen carefully for the Judge to call your name. Once this happens, you can unmute yourself and speak (unless your attorney has instructed you otherwise). What’s the best way to get a Judge angry with you on Zoom? Leave your mute off so that he can hear your dog barking or hear your TV on in the background. Don’t be that person.
- Be Professional and Respectful – Approach Zoom court in the same way that you’d approach in-person court. Would you go to court without a shirt on? Or with a dirty shirt full of holes? Would you talk while the Judge was talking? Would you feed your pet iguana during court? Would eat lunch during court or make weird faces or noises? Obviously not – so don’t do these things during a Zoom court proceeding either. Although it’s pretty unlikely that a Judge would issue a warrant for your arrest for violating court decorum, it’s not impossible. Don’t be the person that finds out for sure.
Speak to our Experienced Criminal / Traffic Legal Team
Until there is a vaccine for Covid that makes in-person court proceedings safer, Zoom will likely remain a part of most courthouse operations. Since 1990, the attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have helped criminal, traffic and injury clients navigate their cases in the most productive and successful manner possible. Call us any time of day at (312) 644-0444 to be put in touch with one of our knowledgeable lawyers for honest advice and current legal information.