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M Jude Egan M. Jude Egan.

California courts’ reopening guidelines require all court appearances to be remote – via telephone or video call. Before the pandemic courtrooms were impossible places for social distancing of any sort. It was not uncommon to have “standing room only” in the small, cramped courtrooms in the three counties in which I regularly practice—San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara (north and south) and Ventura. Almost two weeks before our courts announced a shut down in early March, I informed our civil court presiding judge that both I and the three lawyers I employed were not going to make in-person court appearances.

Normally, I dislike remote appearances because I am a more effective advocate when I am present in the courtroom. Watching the cases called before mine, I can sense the judge’s mood based on how he or she speaks to other lawyers and litigants. During my own case, I can spot nonverbal cues when I am advocating, and when my opposing counsel is speaking. When taking testimony or submitting evidence to the court, I can view it in real-time and observe how witnesses respond to questions. Since much of a judge’s responsibility is to determine witness credibility, the judge also needs to view witness reactions to not only the questions asked, but also to what is not asked. I want to see “the whites of witnesses’ eyes” when I am cross-examining them, and I want my client to focus on my eyes during direct examination. Remote court appearances by telephone made this next-to-impossible.

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