Since early March 2020, the Civil Division of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in Broward County Florida has embraced Zoom to conduct different types of hearings and eventually trials. Here is feedback from attorneys and Judges as to how to enhance the versatility of Zoom technology to support Courthouse operations, and eventually jury trials.
More Text space for the name area at the bottom of each image rectangle- It would greatly assist the Judiciary if more than just the participant’s name (or just a portion of it) can be displayed at the bottom of the video image or static image. This issue becomes important when there are multiple participants on the screen, and each video rectangle is smaller. If there were room for an abbreviated case name, and which party they represent, such identification information would be extremely helpful. Often there are multiple attorneys participating in hearings, and sometimes trials. The more we make it efficient for the Judge to quickly identify the participants, the better the Judicial experience with video conferencing and the more hearings that can be efficiently conducted.
Juror questions- Jurors can use the “raise hand” feature when asking a question. The problem is that Judges have a great deal of information to which they must attend during a jury trial. Sometimes a jury question is vitally important and can affect the rest of the trial. If the Judge or his or her in-Court Clerk is not watching for silent raised hands on the video image of the jurors, such questions can be missed when they are time-sensitive. One potential solution is to let the Judge hear an audible alert, a tone or “ping” which will draw their attention to Juror inquiries.
Objections and questions by attorneys- A situation like the Juror Question section above can arise quickly and frequently during jury and non-jury trials. Often, Judges need to look at another screen or documents on their desk to review exhibits and other documents and can, no matter how much they try to keep up with the fast-changing developments during a proceeding, miss vital visual cues such as a raised hand when a participating attorney has an objection or question. The need to avoid distractions and allow the presiding Judge to focus on the information she or he is getting is paramount. Again, an audible alert, a tone or “ping” sound will help to draw the Judge’s attention to the presence of an objection or question. Certainly, lawyers will speak their objections, but in case of possible internet latency, and to help avoid one lawyer interrupting another (and to enhance the opportunity for civility) the alert sound would be a welcome feature.
Court Reporter and Interpreter issues- Sometimes during trials Court Reporters will have technical problems with their equipment, and they need to let the Court and the attorneys know as soon as such problems arise. Other times participating Court interpreters may have a translation problem in terms of not understanding what a person said, and which requires translation. Certainly, Court Reporters and Interpreters can speak up, but again the “ping” or audible sound would be most helpful in that regard as well.
On the record- Most of the time the Court sessions will not be recorded. However, Judges and all hearing and trial participants need to know that they are on the record. Court Reporters will ask, or be told, “we are back on the record,” but sometimes a visual reminder is important in case participants lose track of whether or not their comments are “on the record.” Just as you have a “recording” notice, perhaps you can provide an “On the Record” alert visible on the screen during on the record sessions.
Visible updated evidence log- A version of the Chat function can be created to allow for the in-Court Clerk to list, by number and by party, all exhibits which are in the Court record for items introduced into evidence and those marked “for identification.” While the existing Chat function is helpful in that regard, such written text can be broken up by other chat entries. Certainly, the Judge can instruct the parties not to use the Chat tool at all, and that Chat is reserved for the Clerk, but having both a Chat function and a Court Clerk log of exhibits would be very useful. Such a feature will help attorneys and the Court make sure they refer to the proper exhibit number or letter during their presentation. The Screen Share function would not work well to address this function, as it would interfere with the participants seeing those who are speaking.
Attention tracking for Jurors- Although Zoom as disabled participant attention tracking, Judges should be given the opportunity to enable that feature for jurors, to prevent juror misconduct. Each juror would be asked to consent to use of this feature, or it could be a required condition for juror service.
“Zoom for the Judiciary”- Just like “Zoom for Government,” perhaps extra security can be provided through servers maintained by Zoom under a “Zoom for the Judiciary” or “Zoom Courts” program. One purpose of this separate and distinct server system, exclusively for Court use, would be to allow for long recorded sessions of trials, so as not to interfere with the functionality or storage space of regular (public or government) servers being employed by Zoom.
“Manually arrangeable image tiles and the ability to lock them in place”- Judges need to see jurors at all times. So do trial attorneys. But when images move about on the screen as a person or persons enter and exit, the images move. Judges should have the ability to “lock” juror images into one position, even if they have two screens enabled on their computer. The two-screen feature is great, but instead of one large image on the second screen, there could be an option to have more tiles on that screen to enhance participant visibility.
This is a revised preliminary list of ideas for your consideration.
First Edition: April 18, 2020 by Mitchell A. Chester, Esq.
Updated April 22, 2020; May 5, 2020; May 10, 2020