‘I’m Here Live, I’m Not A Cat’: The Effect of Zoom on Virtual Court Proceedings - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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‘I’m Here Live, I’m Not A Cat’: The Effect of Zoom on Virtual Court Proceedings

‘I’m Here Live, I’m Not A Cat’: The Effect of Zoom on Virtual Court Proceedings

A recent video went viral on Twitter when a Texas attorney joined a status hearing on Zoom with a cat filter on and was unable to figure out how to take it off.1 The 42-second clip2 shows a seemingly panicked looking cat claiming he was “prepared to go forward with [the hearing]” as his assistant tried to remove the filter.3 Although this mishap gave everyone a laugh, the reality is that pets have become present on Zoom meetings over the past year as people have continued to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Virtual proceedings have been interrupted by dogs barking, pets making unscheduled cameos,5 and even the sound of a toilet flush during oral arguments before the Supreme Court.6

While pets have, for the most part, been a welcome addition to remote working, there have been concerns about maintaining formality in court proceedings held on Zoom.7 Although it is difficult to replicate the feeling of being in a courtroom, judges have emphasized the importance of conducting yourself professionally as you would in person. Judge Rebecca Burton, in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court Family Division, has said that she has had to remind people that this is still a court hearing, and that it carries the same significance as being in a courtroom.8 Likewise, Judge Stephen Gizzi, in the Superior Court of Solano County, California, has said that he even promulgated a set of rules that are issued to everyone coming before his court on how to properly act.9 One recurring issue is the seemingly self-imposed relaxation of the dress code in court, specifically with respect to male attorneys.10 One attorney was called out for having a Mount Vesuvius virtual Zoom background, with the judge then cleverly asking “[t]hey don’t wear ties at Mount Vesuvius?”11 It seems as though the comfort of being in their own homes has led some attorneys to forego the traditional suit and tie expected in a courtroom appearance.

In addition to the lack of formality in attire, virtual court proceedings have raised concerns about the fairness of mandatory virtual trials.12 There are a range of potential problems to consider such as: technical issues that may prevent a juror from hearing testimony, the difficulty of presenting certain types of evidence online, some lawyers having better technology resources than others, not being able to see and read people’s body language, and the inability to know how focused jurors are – namely, that they’re not checking their cell phones or being distracted by things in their homes.13 One judge expressed his concern that attorneys are not taking preparation for their remote oral arguments as seriously, and urged attorneys to continue with moot courts and extensive preparation beforehand.14Although virtual trials have, for the most part, been effective, some lawyers are concerned about whether or not the parties actually get their fair day in court.15 One attorney even said that the pressure of facing a trial, virtual and in-person, frequently leads to settlements.16

However, attorneys and judges who have experienced virtual trials firsthand have highlighted some benefits the virtual forum brings.17 Self-represented and poor litigants are not forced to take a day off of work or find childcare in order to make a court appearance, because it can often be scheduled during their lunch hour.18 Some judges have noticed greater participation among indigent litigants, and have said that domestic violence victims, who are typically not comfortable speaking in the courtroom, are more willing to speak up over Zoom.19 While there are technical drawbacks and new issues, there are certainly efficiency and convenience benefits that attorneys and judges have enjoyed. As we continue to navigate the process of finding a new normal in a virtual legal world, attorneys and judges alike urge others to continue to adapt to the platform, rather than try to adapt the platform to the courtroom.20

  1. Morgan Conley, ‘I’m Not A Cat,’ Atty Assures Judge Amid Zoom Filter Mishap, Law360 (Feb. 9, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1353822/-i-m-not-a-cat-atty-assures-judge-amid-zoom-filter-mishap.

  2. Associated Press, Filter turns lawyer into cat during Zoom hearing, YouTube (Feb. 9, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDNP-SWgn2w.

  3. See Conley, supra Note 1.

  4. Chris Villani, Zoom Hearings Reveal Dogged Pursuit of Justice. Cats Too., Law360 (Feb. 12, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1354732/zoom-hearings-reveal-dogged-pursuit-of-justice-cats-too-.

  5. Id.

  6. The Term: Flushing Arguments Down The Toilet, Law360 (May 7, 2020), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1271246.

  7. Justin Wise, Beyond ‘Cat Lawyer’: Judges on Virtual Hearings, Law360 (Feb. 17, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1355854/beyond-cat-lawyer-judges-on-virtual-hearings.

  8. Id.

  9. Id.

  10. Dorothy Atkins, Calif. Judge Tells DLA Atty On Zoom: ‘At Least Have A Tie On,Law360 (Feb. 11, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1354603/calif-judge-tells-dla-atty-on-zoom-at-least-have-a-tie-on-.

  11. Id.

  12. Bill Wichert, NJ Attys Worried About Fairness Of Mandatory Virtual Trials, Law360 (Feb. 5, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1352833/nj-attys-worried-about-fairness-of-mandatory-virtual-trials.

  13. Id.

  14. Dani Kass, Fed. Cir. Judge Tells Attys Not To Slack Off On Remote Args, Law360 (Feb. 26, 2021), https://www-law360-com.fls.idm.oclc.org/articles/1350083/fed-circ-judge-tells-attys-not-to-slack-off-on-remote-args.

  15. See Wichert, supra note 12.

  16. Id.

  17. See Wise, supra note 7.

  18. Id.

  19. Id.

  20. See Kass, supra note 14.

Olivia Herrera

Olivia Herrera is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member on the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She also serves as Secretary of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. She holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Maryland.