One of the nation’s busiest bankruptcy courts is turning to videoconferencing to keep business going while taking precautions to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware plans to use Skype for video of witness testimony while simultaneously using CourtCall for audio during hearings that require live appearances in open court. The court posted the new procedures for video participants on its website Wednesday, and will test it Thursday afternoon.
“In our court, we can’t just shut down, as Chapter 11 debtors and creditors need relief,” Chief Judge Christopher Sontchi said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “Among other things that means we need to be able to conduct contested evidentiary hearings. The law, however, does not allow for the presentation of contested testimony by telephone. You need a video connection,” he said.
The move is just one of many that courts are taking nationwide to in response to the outbreak of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. In New Castle County, Del., where the court is located, 23 people had tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, according to the state’s health department website.
Bankruptcy rules track the Federal Rules of Evidence, which require witness testimony at trial to be conducted in open court, or “for good cause in compelling circumstances” may be done “by contemporaneous transmission from a different location.”
Teleconferencing services such as CourtCall and Court Solutions are getting increased demand for call-in appearances, and don’t have the manpower to manage video for everybody, said Clerk of Court Una M. O’Boyle.
The court will limit the number of video participants to nine or 10 because the images on the screen become too small with more, she said.
The court has an extensive videoconferencing system, which it used in the past during large cases such as the bankruptcy of Nortel Networks, during which it broadcast testimony among courtrooms in Delaware, Canada, and the U.K.
Those systems are of little use when everyone is remote, O’Boyle said. Most court employees are now working from elsewhere, she said.