Put On A Shirt For Video Hearings, Judge Tells Attorneys

A Florida judge is issuing an urgent plea to attorneys during the coronavirus pandemic: Please put on a shirt before logging in to a court hearing via videoconference.

Judge Dennis Bailey, who sits on the bench in family court in Broward County, said in a recent letter to the Weston Bar Association that he and his fellow jurists have dealt with a number of inappropriately dressed attorneys on Zoom video calls.

“One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers,” Judge Bailey said. “And putting on a beach cover-up won’t cover up [that] you’re poolside in a bathing suit.”

He urged lawyers and their clients to remember that these hearings are still court appearances for which they should dress appropriately.

“Let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not,” the judge said.

Judge Bailey said that he and his colleagues in family court have managed to continue to run their dockets, holding both evidentiary and non-evidentiary hearings and bench trials via Zoom. Civil court judges are now beginning to follow suit, though he said the criminal division will continue to be most disrupted because of the need for jury trials and the right of defendants to be present for hearings.

Judge Bailey added that lawyers now need to do more prep work for evidentiary hearings by making sure all exhibits are sent to opposing counsel well in advance and coordinating third-party witnesses, who need to be on camera to be sworn in by the judge.

“At the end of the day, we conduct these hearings as best we can, knowing we’re running on one of those miniature spare tires we pulled from the trunk rather than a ‘real’ tire,” Judge Bailey said. “But it will get us to where we need to go if we decrease our speed and increase our caution and shorten our trip. Resolve as many issues as you can through negotiation and then buckle up. We’ll get there, but it may get a little bumpy along the way.”