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As people are forced to work remotely from home here are a few helpful tips for using the Zoom video teleconferencing app.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One woman appeared naked over Zoom for her virtual eviction hearing.

Another showed up for her remote court appearance while she was getting her hair done at the beauty parlor.

Kentucky Attorney Kimberly Withers Daleure wrote on Facebook that she sat through an entire parental rights termination hearing where the father sat in bed shirtless.

And lawyer Erin Pippin said she had a client — now a former client — appear poolside in her bikini for her virtual hearing, while another client remotely attended a mediation hearing drinking a beer. 

Welcome to court — 2020 style.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, courthouses across the nation have gone to virtual hearings conducted over the internet — sometimes with hilarious results. 

And truthfully, the world of remote court hearings often isn’t a laughing matter.  

The perils of virtual court hearings in Kentucky

Experts say they fear remote hearings give an unfair advantage to expensive law firms that can pay for good lighting and stable Internet connections — and that litigants can now be judged not just on their appearance — but the appearance of their homes.

Lawyers also say virtual proceedings are no replacement for the right to confront witnesses guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. 

But some feel the bloopers and blunders of virtual hearings have also provided comic relief during an otherwise bleak and dismal year. 

In a Facebook post Dec. 10, Kentucky District Judge Julie Kaelin reported what she called a “Zoom first” — an attorney “clearly enjoying a cigar” while cases were being called.  

“Good for that guy,” she wrote. “I tell ya, there are so many things you couldn’t do during court in 2019 that you can do now.

“Welcome to the future.” 

Attorney Thomas McAdam puffs a cigar during a remote probate hearing (Photo: Jefferson District Court)

Also in Kentucky, Jefferson Circuit Judge Charles Cunningham said in an email a lawyer called into his court for motion hour, failed to mute himself, fell asleep, then snored for the rest of the proceeding. 

Cunningham said when he asked fellow Judge Stan Chauvin for technical advice about how to prevent a recurrence, Chauvin advised, “Don’t be so boring.” 

Attorney Karen Faulkner said one of the biggest problems in remote court hearings is people who forget to turn off their microphones — making “side conversations dangerous.” 

She said during a District Court matter, someone said, “This is f—ing stupid.” The judge heard it too — but couldn’t tell who said it, so everyone was reprimanded. 

District Judge Jennifer Leibson said she got in a “mute war” Tuesday with a defendant who kept unmuting himself “despite me telling him numerous times to stop.” 

Leibson said the naked woman appeared in Chief District Judge Anne Haynie’s court.

“She didn’t even have a case on the docket,” Leibson said. “She was there to show off, I guess.”

District Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke said she had a woman appear wearing no clothes and her hair in curlers. She apparently didn’t know her camera was on. 

Like other judges, Burke said she has heard dogs barking, seen cats walk across the screen and watched children play behind their parents, including one “funny little guy was giving his Dad rabbit ears!”  

Jefferson District Judge Stephanie Pearce (Photo: Courier Journal)

Responding on Facebook to Kaelin’s post about the cigar-smoking lawyer, attorney Ashlea Nicole Hellmann said she was on a remote hearing from Hardin County when a defendant forgot to stash his meth pipe.

It was visible on a table behind him. 

Attorney Tish Morris said she had a client who had been in a car wreck — and did her Zoom deposition while driving. 

And Jillian Hall said she participated in a remote hearing in which a defendant appeared in his bedroom wearing no pants. Hall confessed she was wearing a pair of bright green yoga pants herself at the time.

The nationwide perils of Zoom hearings

Kentucky is not the only place beset by remote court hearing high jinks. 

In San Francisco, an employment lawyer popped into a federal court videoconference framed by majestic virtual sunbeams. He apologized to the judge, saying he’d been at a Zoom happy hour and didn’t know how to turn off the background — a beautiful Kansas sunset. 

Don’t worry, U.S District Judge Vince Chhabria told him. “Kansas sunsets are perfectly welcome here.”  

In Broward County, Florida, after a female attorney appeared still under the bed covers, and a male lawyer shirtless, Judge Dennis Bailey admonished the local bar to get out of bed and put on a shirt. 

Courts in Sacramento, California, went so far as to put out an etiquette guide advising lawyers to dress appropriately and avoid displaying anything in the background that could be perceived as offensive. 

Problems elsewhere have gone beyond ill dress or grooming. 

In Lincoln, Nebraska, Zoom-bombers from around the world hacked into a hearing on the guardianship of a 12-year-old with vulgarities and porn, according to press accounts. 

And in Tampa, Florida, a bond hearing for 17-year-old Graham Clark, who was charged in July with the mass hack of Twitter’s internal computer systems, was cut short after fellow hackers injected a porn video clip into the proceeding. 

But remote hearings aren’t all bad, said Burke, especially in mental health cases. 

They are less intimidating to the patients, who are already distressed, and don’t need to be transferred to the courthouse or to appear with a bunch of strangers.  

“It’s a more compassionate way of handling those dockets, and I expect we will continue to utilize remote platforms in those cases even after COVID restrictions are lifted,” she said. 

Watching Zoom court hearings 

Members of the public can watch most Zoom court hearings if they have a Zoom account and know when a hearing is. 

In Kentucky, Jefferson District Court Judge Julie Kaelin said her colleagues could make remote hearings more accessible by streaming them to YouTube. It is as easy as the judge pushing two buttons, she said.

Yet she said she is one of only three judges the state who are doing so, despite her offers to show other judges how it is done. 

“I don’t get it,” she said. “In non-pandemic times anyone can walk in off the street and watch court for any reason. In a pandemic, when people are not allowed inside the courtroom, the only way to truly have open courts is to make them widely available on an easily accessible platform, like YouTube.” 

Follow Andrew Wolfson on Twitter:  @adwolfson.

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Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/12/21/amid-covid-19-zoom-court-hearings-include-nudity-beer-bikinis-dogs/3956427001/



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