Law Practice Management & Technology

Making a Telephonic Court Appearance in the COVID-19 Era

By Maureen Mason
March 18, 2020

NOTE: California Rules of Court Emergency Rule 3, issued on  April 6, 2020, temporarily authorizes civil court proceedings to be conducted remotely, using video, audio, and phone appearances; and authorizes the use of electronic exchange and authentication of documentary evidence, e-filing and e-service, and remote interpreting/reporting and electronic recording. The use of e-signatures will be added to this list by circulating order. Rule 11 also permits remote depositions.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many California superior courts are encouraging attorneys to appear by telephone for certain civil hearings, while in some area’s courts have rescheduled most hearings or closed their doors altogether. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to make a telephonic court appearance.

Schedule your phone appearance. Most superior courts use CourtCall for telephone appearances. If your court uses the service, you can either set up a telephonic appearance online at https://courtcall.com, if your judge or department permits online scheduling, or you can contact the court clerk directly to set it up.

  • Check your court’s website and local rules to see whether telephone appearances are permitted for your civil hearing; some courts are relaxing their rules during the COVID-19 crisis. Check whether you can use CourtCall to appear. If not, follow the court’s instructions for placing calls directly to the department on the date of your hearing.
  • If your court uses CourtCall, create an account on https://courtcall.com and look up your court and judge/department. Check whether online scheduling is available. If so, schedule your phone appearance for an existing court date: you can start by looking up your court, the judge, and hearing date. If online scheduling is not available, contact the clerk to arrange your CourtCall appearance.
  • Pay the $94 fee, either when you schedule your appearance or when the court or CourtCall requests payment. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.670(k)(1).) CourtCall is currently waiving late fees for telephone appearance requests made on short notice, and the Judicial Council of California and CourtCall have agreed to reduce the fee to $54 for telephonic appearances newly scheduled on and after March 19 and to occur prior to April 30, and will further evaluate before April 30. Check here for updated information on waivers and reduced fees. NOTE: If the hearing is continued, you will still be charged the fee unless you notify CourtCall of the continuance before your scheduled appearance.

Notify the court and parties. You must normally notify the court and all other parties of your intent to appear by telephone at least two court days before your scheduled telephone appearance. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.670(h)(1)(B).) In response to the COVID-19 crisis, some courts are waiving this requirement if you schedule through CourtCall, so check your court’s website to see whether prior notice to the court is required.

  • File a “Notice of Intent to Appear by Telephone” with the court at least two court days before the hearing and serve the notice at the same time on all other parties by means reasonably calculated to ensure next-day delivery. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.670(h)(1)(B).) When you schedule the appearance through CourtCall, you will receive a “service copy” of your request to serve on opposing counsel and file with the court.
  • Although written notice is preferred, oral notice to the court and parties in person or by phone is allowed. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.670(h)(1)(B).)

Call in to make your appearance. Make your call by following the instructions you receive from CourtCall or the court.

  • Call in 20 minutes before the scheduled hearing so you can check in with the clerk. Use this time before the hearing to troubleshoot any connection problems and get additional clerk’s instructions.
  • If there’s a busy calendar, wait your turn. You may be put on hold; if you’re asked to wait for a call back, you must stay available for the call. If you have to wait, you may want to be located somewhere you can work.

Tips for attending a hearing by phone. Prepare for your telephone appearance as you normally would for your hearing, e.g., review the court’s tentative ruling and prepare your argument. But take into account that your advocacy depends on your voice and your phone connection. Courts have little patience for background noise, poor phone reception, or other interruptions.

  • Minimize all distractions and be sure you are in a very quiet location before calling in.
  • Use a landline if possible. If you use a cell phone, be sure your phone is fully charged and test your connection ahead of time. Don’t be the attorney trying to troubleshoot poor reception or bad audio in the middle of a hearing.
  • Use a high-quality headset if possible. Avoid using speakerphone; it may create an echo on the line.
  • The mute button is your friend. Whenever you are not speaking, mute your phone.
  • Speak more slowly than you would speak in person.
  • If there is more than one person on the phone, identify yourself by name each time you speak.
  • Be mindful to pause to allow others to speak. On some phone connections, only one person can speak at a time and you may inadvertently “lock” someone out (including the judge) if you keep talking.
  • Be assertive (“Excuse me, your honor”) when there is a pause and you need to speak, but remember that the judge will give you your turn.
  • If the judge is talking and you have something to say, let the judge finish—don’t interrupt.
  • Get to your points quickly, and don’t ramble on. This is even more important over the phone than at an in-person hearing.

The same general principles apply whether you call in to a case management conference or you have to argue a motion by phone because of a public health order in your area. Don’t forget that the same procedures for making a record apply to in-person and telephonic appearances. If you need a court reporter at the hearing, be sure to make advance arrangements so the reporter will be present either in court or on the call.

About the Author:

Maureen Mason, Esq. is an editor at CEB and liaison to the LPMT Section’s Executive Committee.

Reprinted by permission from Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB). CEB’s daily articles and law alerts are accessible by registering for a free account at https://research.ceb.com/register.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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