Faced with this uncertainty, most courts have begun conducting motion and evidentiary hearings via Zoom.
After two months of mostly dealing with emergencies, courts can finally start to clear their dockets. Litigants do not need to deal with travel to court, parking or security lines, as they can attend the hearings from the comfort of their homes, offices or cars. Some judges feel that Zoom hearings allow them to truly assess witness credibility since they are making prolonged eye-to-eye contact, often on a large screen in their courtrooms. Teleconferencing will force attorneys to be better prepared and reach agreements with opposing counsel as to exhibits. These have all been some benefits found during the online court hearings.
Some argue there are just as many cons to online hearings though, some of which may be detrimental to a proper verdict.
Judges cannot control a virtual courtroom the same way they can a real courtroom in terms of who is physically present, who is using a cell phone, who is talking to whom, who is coaching witnesses. If personal documents are being introduced into evidence through Zoom’s share screen feature, these will also be visible on YouTube. How long before hackers figure out that trolling court hearings is a good way to gain access to account numbers and birth dates? If parties are residing in the same home, it may be dangerous for domestic violence survivors to safely participate in court hearings. Survivors cannot rely on courthouse security measures, bailiffs or the support of their attorneys in person.
Courts will need to find a way to balance the need to move cases forward with the public’s right to access as well as judge accountability against the litigants’ rights to confidentiality, all while maintaining the integrity of the evidentiary hearing