This article was written by TexasLawHelp and was last updated January 15, 2020.
Help Improve Virtual Court
Virtual court hearings are fairly new in Texas. The state started using virtual hearings due to COVID-19, but they will likely continue after the pandemic. We are interested in your feedback about virtual courts. How would you like to see them work? What can be done to make sure they are easy to access and as fair as possible?
Please answer this short survey on virtual courts to help shape the future of the Texas justice system.
Can I still go to court if the courthouse has closed due to COVID-19?
Many courts in Texas are holding essential hearings by videoconference during the COVID-19 crisis, usually using Zoom. The Office of Court Administration has put up a guide to the process that includes instructions and links to tutorials. For a list of YouTube channels that broadcast from specific Texas courts, click here.
The Texas Supreme Court has authorized courts to do this at least through February 1, 2021. See Court Closures, Orders, Postponements, and Updated Procedures Due to COVID-19. Contact your court’s court coordinator or administrator to see what their procedure is. You can usually find the court coordinator’s contact information on the county’s web page. The best practice for learning this information, if it is not posted on the county's or court's web site, is to email the court coordinator.
Can I just reschedule my hearing?
You can ask the other side if they agree to reschedule the case, and ask the court coordinator by email if this is an option. You will need to Cc: the other side (such as the other parent) and other interested parties (such as the Office of the Attorney General if this is a child support case). Some courts have already rescheduled hearings, so if you are not sure, contact the court coordinator.
Or you might try to get a continuance. A continuance changes the date of a court hearing or trial to a later date. You can ask a judge for a continuance by filing a motion for continuance. Read How to Ask for a Continuance.
What are some options if I cannot appear in person?
Because of the epidemic, more and more Texas judges can stream and host court proceedings via Zoom and YouTube.
Is the virtual courtroom more casual than a regular courtroom?
Consider the videoconference to be a courtroom. It is not meant to be more casual than a physical courtroom. Virtual court is still "real" court.
Dress neatly. Do not wear printed t-shirts, tank tops, or hats. Dress like you are going to a job interview. If at all possible, a caregiver should help keep your child occupied. Your child should not be in the same room. See Tips for the Courtroom. This is particularly important for cases that involve the parent-child relationship. It is not considered in the best interest of a child to be exposed to courtroom conflict between parents.
How do you know if you have court by Zoom?
Contact the court coordinator. If you have a court date, they likely will be sending you an email invitation.
It is better to wait for an email from the court rather than trying to start your own Zoom session, because Texas judges have access to professional versions of Zoom that let them control the proceeding (for example, controlling who can talk and when) almost as if it were really in a courthouse.
I want to show the judge some evidence. How do I do that?
Check with your court first. One way it is being done: Email your exhibit to the court coordinator. They can handle it so that the judge, court reporter, and the other side can see your exhibits at the right time during your hearing.
Some courts may have strict deadlines for sending in documents. You should ask the court coordinator and a lawyer who practices in that jurisdiction to learn how that court is handling this. One way to find a lawyer who practices in your jurisdiction is through a certified lawyer referral service.
What are some other Zoom tips?
Practice using Zoom before court several days before your hearing. This gives you time to fine-tune your setup and get comfortable with Zoom. Only so much time is available for your court matter, and you may not want to waste your scheduled time trying to troubleshoot your setup.
Watch court hearings beforehand. A list of courts' YouTube broadcasts is here. But, do not listen to the YouTube stream at the same time in the same room as your hearing, because this can cause feedback that will make it hard for everyone involved to understand and participate what is going on.
Some other tips from the Office of Court Administration:
- Wear a solid color, not a pattern. Whatever color you wear should not blend into your background (don't wear a blue shirt if you are in front of a blue wall).
- When speaking, look directly at the camera, not at the screen.
- Position the camera at your eye level or slightly above eye level.
- Be mindful of what is behind you, choose a solid neutral wall if you can.
- Check the lighting.
- Light from a window behind you might blind the camera, making you look dark.
- Light above you in the center of a room might cast shadows.
- Ideally, put a lamp, or sit facing a window, where light is directly on your face.
- Also know that your screen may cast light that can make you look blue.
- Speak one at a time and to pause prior to speaking in case there is any audio or video lag.
- Mute yourself when you are not speaking in order to avoid any potential background noise.
Test your connection and setup with Zoom by testing your connection with a test meeting.
I am having a hard time with internet access now.
How can I ask the court to let me appear by video or phone?
You may need to file a motion for use of emergency procedures.
Can I do Zoom court by smartphone?
You can use Zoom on a smartphone to access your court hearing. But you may have better results, based in part on having a steadier internet connection, if you have access to a laptop computer or desktop with a webcam. Zoom may be easier to use on a computer.
If you are having a hard time getting access to the technology you need, let the court coordinator and other parties know ahead of time. See our internet access map, or call 2-1-1 for suggestions.
Video: Virtual Court
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