Conducting Zoom Trials

Attorney Michael Serduck participates in his first online video trial

While I have had (since April 2020) two evidentiary hearings (an extension of a c. 209A and a show cause hearing), last week I completed my first Zoom trial.

The case was a custody/child support modification pending in the Franklin Probate Court.

The case was tried before the Honorable Beth Crawford. I was counsel for the Plaintiff. Counsel for the Defendant was Leslie Powers of Greenfield. Of great assistance was sessions clerk Anne Fitzgerald, who managed the computer link between the parties and the Court and handled the Zoom issues. Without her assistance this trial would not have happened

I have been doing trial work for almost 39 years. This case was the most novel of all my trials.

The Court ordered the witnesses (including the parties) to testify remotely from counsel. Attorney Powers and I had all the exhibits (both contested and uncontested) in two bound volumes. Each volume had the pages number sequentially (like a record appendix). Each party, counsel and the Court had a volume. At the start of the trial the uncontested exhibits were all placed in evidence. Judge Crawford allowed the parties to refer to the pages in the exhibit volumes rather than the traditional method of referencing to the exhibit number. This made a Zoom trial possible.

In addition the Court issued an order that was attached to witness subpoenas. The order directed the witness to go to a certain Zoom site in order to testify, rather than to report to the Court.

I would humbly suggest the above methods for others involved in a Zoom trial.

Also, of help to myself was my college intern Pablo Mercado for two reasons. First, it was good to have a 20-something year old to assist with the computer – especially when you are 63 years old (as I am). As I have often said, when I was a child, black and white television was relatively new. Second, Pablo was able to receive and reply to texts from my client concerning the testimony of other witnesses. Normally, your client would be seated next to counsel and whispering to his/her ideas re a witness who is testifying.

The case went well. There was only one unforeseen problem, which I informed Judge Crawford about at the outset of the trial; my office is next to the Amherst railroad station. Twice a day a freight train passes which results in a large amount of noise in my office. Sure enough, while I was examining a witness the morning train passed and the trial was stopped for about 30 seconds. In essence, the 21st century technology was interrupted by 19th century technology.

Published in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly on 01/11/21