COVID Court Tips & Best Practices

‘Court in the Age of COVID’: Tips & Best Practices

 

In March of 2020, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the world changed, suddenly, in a way I have not experienced in my lifetime. The legal world had to adapt, the people and the processes. In person hearings were moved to the online video conferencing platform, Zoom. There were also widespread court closures for weeks or months that has caused significant backlogs, as you can imagine.

Before, you would go to the courthouse and sit in the court room for hours at times waiting for your case to be called. Not to mention the time spent driving to and from court, looking for a parking space, paying for parking, and childcare while you’re gone. A 10-minute court appearance could easily eat up three to six hours of your day.

Now, court hearings look much different. Motions and pleadings that had to be filed in person with 5 hard copies to have our runner drop off in several places in the courthouse. Now, we can E-file our client’s PDF pleadings, pay the filing fee and get back stamped/filed copies via email, all without leaving our office (Yay!).

The ability to pre-select the court date you want for your motion to be heard is limited. The court will generally provide the next available and it could be a while. The court mailed Notices to Appear for a court date arrive in the mail now much closer to the actual hearing date. In the unfortunate event there is a scheduling conflict, and we need to adjourn the hearing, this is poses challenges and time consuming. The court now send us a zoom link with a specific time to log in or we head to the county’s Zoom weblink and ‘Join Meeting’. The availability to Zoom court hearings has allowed the court to tackle the backlog by hearing more matters per day without exposing Judges, court staff, attorneys and litigants in person health risks.

Innovation. Progress. So much time saving. The Tuke Firm has gotten good at predicting timeframes for our clients better now that we are 18 months into this online court world.

 

Tuke ‘2K’ Team Tips to navigating online court in Michigan:

Email addresses– it is necessary to have a court safe email address that you check regularly for communication from your attorney, the court and the other side. It’s an imperative from day one and not optional, like in the past. The court will be sending your final court orders to the email address you have on file with the court.

Backlogs– courts are still climbing out of the post shut down backlog. In some counties, particularly Wayne County, it’s very bad, particularly in the timeframe from filing a motion, to getting that motion on the Record of Actions as officially filed AND importantly, receiving a DATE to be heard. Having the 2K Team in place to check and double check, so you don’t have to, is part of the package.

Zoom Hearings– At least a day before your hearing, do a test run. It will help you calm nerves about show up properly at game time. Make sure you:

1. Do make sure your device is CHARGED 😊

2. Do check to make sure where you will be joining the hearing from has stable WiFi connection. And have a backup wifi option or device. If you get kicked off, log right back in. It happens.

3. Do know how to use Zoom before your hearing date. Search of videos or go to the Zoom website for instructions.

4. Do not have any alternate name appearing on your Zoom, change it your first and last name so the Clerk knows what case you are there for. There can be 20 people (attorneys, litigants, witness, experts, GALs) in the waiting room at once, help the clerk out.

5. You will enter the Judge’s Zoom waiting room first. Court clerk may or may not send a chat message while waiting. Relax and pay attention to instructions, if any.

6. Do check that your device mic is working.

7. Don’t use any virtual backgrounds.

8. Don’t’ have anyone else in the room with you, the Judge will ask and may have you turn your device towards the rest of the room to check

9. Don’t ever, ever have your kids in the room or within ear shoot. The court will ask and if your kids pop up the court will pause until they far from the proceeding.

10. Do remember the court proceeding is just as official as in person court, so carry yourself and speak just as if you were at the courthouse all together. Everything said and done is part of the official court transcript.

12. All court proceedings are recorded, as they are public record. But you cannot independently start recording during your hearing.

 

Dress/Demeanor

Find a spot with good lighting. Regardless of where you are logging in from, business casual is best. If you have to join the hearing from work, uniform or work attire is just fine. Have a relaxed demeanor, even in the most intense situations. The recording will capture your face sooo… fix it! (Please 😊) It’s game time, poker face. You can jot down notes, but do not interrupt anyone while on the record. Your counsel will be able to speak for you, and when it’s your turn, you will have the cue to speak.

 

Alternate Dispute Resolution

With court dates harder to obtain and possibly set many weeks from when you file, it is smart to consider outside of court methods of resolving your matter. Finding a seasoned mediator who can help you and the other party work through your different positions is GOLD. The mediator is a neutral 3rd party listen to both sides of the issues and provide win-win solutions. The Tuke Firm works with many great mediators in several counties. Also, Esse Tuke is trained domestic mediator who mediates other people’s cases when she’s not slaying dragons for her The Tuke Firm clients.

 

Esse Tuke, supported by the stellar 2KTeam, puts years of experience into practice with an array of legal tech tools to organize the details of your complex estate. We are comfortable and well versed in the technology aspects that trip up so many, even other attorneys. Esse crafts a litigation strategy to protect what matters most. Part of that strategy is HOW best to navigate litigation necessities in an ongoing pandemic.

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