Judge John Chavez

As we ring in a new year and approach the third anniversary of the global pandemic, life has returned to ‘normal.’

Certainly, our society has adapted to new norms that may have been improbable if not impossible prior to the pandemic.

The courts for instance, while resuming in-person hearings and jury trials, continue to utilize video hearings to a very great extent.

In fact, traffic matters are conducted nearly completely remotely. The early days of video court were quite the experience, to say the least, as all concerned became accustomed to these processes.

What follows are some tips on being successful when attending a video hearing.

Make sure you have the correct sign-on information. Different courts have different procedures but many, including this court, provide the specific sign-in information on the summons itself.

New Mexico courts are utilizing Google Meets. Although not required, we have been told by court participants that downloading the Google Meets app is beneficial to joining a remote hearing.

Plan for your attendance. Before COVID, if you had court, you would typically take some time off, arrange childcare and travel to the courthouse.

Today, because of remote appearance, individuals can call in from home or work. The challenge that presents itself is this: individuals become distracted by work or home tasks and often miss their scheduled hearing. This can result in a warrant for failure to appear and further complicates the underlying issues.

Because your case is part of a larger docket, there is no guarantee that your matter will be handled first. We often hear, after a warrant is issued, that individuals dropped off the call because their work break was over or they had to pick up their kids from school.

Set aside at least two hours, if not more, to ensure that you have plenty of time available to you. Additionally, minimize distractions like loud televisions or radios so that you can hear when your case is called.

Do not drive and attend a court hearing remotely conducted by video. This is dangerous for you and others on the road.

Your requirement when you drive is to give your full time and attention – attending a court proceeding is not conducive to driving down the interstate.

The reverse is true too – you should give your full time and attention to your court matter so that you fully understand what is happening.

The speaker feature on phones produces unpredictable results. I do not know what it is about the speaker feature but when I have a bad connection to include echo, or squelch, I am seldom surprised when I find that the person on the line is on speaker.

If you join by phone, please understand that you are not the only person on the line. Unless you mute your phone, all parties can hear your background conversations – many of which I assume people would prefer to be private.

If you do not mute your phone and/or control background noise, the court may mute you. This can create a situation where you are not able to respond and you may need to call in again, which further delays your proceeding.

If you are on video, please understand that your background is now part of the courtroom. Profanity, pornographic images, or any number of other images or sayings are not proper for court.

Their appearance is not unlike the same being worn on a t-shirt during an in-person proceeding. If it is disruptive to court proceedings, it will be dealt with. Please police your background.

Evidence must be provided prior to the court date and time to be considered. I recommend if you want the court to review a document as part of the proceeding that you provide this to the court 48 hours (about two days) prior.

In that correspondence, it is important that you identify yourself and your case number so that it can be properly filed with the court. An example of this would be a driver’s license in a ‘driver’s license not in possession’ charge.

Make certain you have a stable and strong internet or cellular connection. It is a reality that rural New Mexico has a shortage of reliable bandwidth and not everyone has access to computers at home or work.

To that end, ensure that you have a good connection for your court session. If you drop calls with family members or friends, you will drop calls with the court. Courts can provide you access to video equipment in the courthouse to attend a remote hearing. Additionally you can file a motion with the court for your appearance to be held in-person.

Remote hearings are likely here to stay. Courts continue to improve their processes and procedures to maximize the efficiencies of these hearings. Following the above etiquette goes a long way to ensuring your day in court goes well.

(Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate  in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.)

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Judge John Chavez, guest columnist

Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.