“A disadvantage of appearing virtually”
Legal aid organizations across the country say they have observed disturbing practices in remote hearings.
First, there is the lack of consistency. Housing courts across the country use a patchwork of services, including Webex, Zoom, BlueJeans, and others. In some places, such as St. Louis, which has both city and county courts, the situation is mixed: one court uses Zoom and the other Webex. Additionally, some courts are fully virtual while others are hybrid, and others switch between virtual, hybrid and in person – sometimes within the same cases. This leads to many possibilities for confusion: Diamond, for example, says she was scheduled to appear in person for her second hearing, but the next one is scheduled for Webex.)
On top of that, notifications from Zoom or Webex can get lost in spam, leading tenants to miss court appearances and in some cases receive eviction judgments by default.
Then there is the question of access. With so many services closed, including libraries and schools that could provide free Wi-Fi, some defendants were unable to access meetings at all. Others had difficulty submitting documents in person or by uploading to the web.
Tenants with disabilities, such as hearing loss, or those who need help with translation, are even more limited. Camp says he was horrified by a case in which a tenant who was evicted following a video conference had to rely on the same property manager to evict him to translate for court. If the hearing had taken place in person, Camp says, the court would have been required to provide translation services.