A Broward County, Fla., judge recently sent a letter to members of the Weston Bar Association to remind them of their continuing professional obligations, including dressing professionally, despite how coronavirus has upended their lives.
The letter was prompted by the civil division’s transition to hearings and dockets being run via the video-communications app Zoom. The system’s family court had already been running on the popular platform, according to Judge Dennis Bailey’s note, which appears to have been posted around April 9.
From the family court experiences, the note said, judges have learned that some lawyers have been using Zoom hearings as an occasion to dress down.
“It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera,” Bailey wrote, reminding lawyers that the hearings aren’t “casual conferences.”
“We’ve seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc.,” he wrote.
Bailey recounted how a male lawyer appeared shirtless and a female attorney “appeared still in bed, still under the covers,” during a hearing.
“And putting on a beach cover-up won’t cover up you’re poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don’t mind, let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not,” Bailey said.
Other lessons learned from the family court include:
- Evidentiary hearings via Zoom take additional pre-hearing prep work.
- Attorneys will have to coordinate third-party witnesses who need to be on camera to be sworn in by the judge. If this isn’t possible, they will need a notary at their location to verify identification and oath.
- Zoom hearings take more time than in-person hearings due to lag time in audio capacity coming online and people talking over each other, “which challenges the responsibility to make contemporaneous objections.”
- Sometimes it’s hard to get lawyers’ attention on Zoom. “Often, lawyers are not looking at their screens but down at their files, their outlines and notes, or simply out the window, and cannot see the judge is hollering ‘Stop! Stop!’ because an objection has been made and the audio stays with the witness rather than obeying the judge,” said Bailey.
The judge said despite the challenges, the courts will continue to conduct hearings as best they can.
We’ll get to “where we need to go” even it it gets “a little bumpy along the way,” he said.