By Ryan Kaika
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – “This hearing is being conducted remotely through the interactive video conferencing app Zoom,” judges said aloud on camera from the mostly empty Sacramento County Superior Courtroom – the phrase that was repeated prior to each arraignment throughout the week.
Despite delays in most court proceedings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these arraignments were allowed to begin, thanks to the help of 21st century ingenuity—video conferencing.
Spirits were reportedly surprisingly high among the participants – people were more polite than normal.
“My mom texted me and asked if the camera could be closer ‘cause you can’t see me very well,” an attorney joked with Judge Kenneth Brody. “(She’s) an excellent employee,” the judge replied about the attorney, smiling at the camera.
Unfortunately, positivity couldn’t quell every technological issue.
In one court, for instance, a few private comments that were most likely meant to be muted could be heard on the YouTube stream, which featured a small box telling viewers “Do Not Record.” These comments mainly involved the personal contact information of the defendants, a small lapse in judgment for a crew pioneering modern court history.
On Friday, in Department 60, Judge Brody seemed to have a firm grasp on the video conferencing capabilities, taking control of the audio promptly and efficiently at the request of the attorneys as well as others needing a moment of privacy during the hearings.
In other courtrooms, according an earlier account by THE VANGUARD, “some judges insisted that they be the only person on screen.” Judge Brody’s courtroom, however, on both Thursday and Friday, showcased three screens simultaneously—one for the defendant and their attorney, one for the prosecutor, and one for the judge.
Communication issues aside, there were noticeable lapses in sanitary judgment.
Thursday, court deputies, wearing blue surgical gloves, occasionally cleaned the “cage” using a sanitizing spray before new defendants entered to wipe down the bars of the cage, which is roughly a 100-square-foot wooden and steel box that holds defendants.
The “cage” was constantly being touched and leaned upon by those inside. One in-custody defendant, in court on a felony stolen vehicle complaint charge, was noticeably fearful of being held due to the looming virus.
On Friday in Department 60, this cleaning in between arraignments did not occur, not on camera at least.
Although at least one public defender – the Deputy District Attorneys are appearing via Zoom from their offices – did wear a mask this week. PDs are present because they have to be able to speak with defendants if necessary in court.
And, Friday, reports from a White House news conference noted, “The Trump administration is advising people to start wearing face masks in public to stop the spread of coronavirus,” citing new Center for Disease Control guidelines. The president later confirmed that the recommendation is only voluntary.
Come Monday – when Sacramento Superior Court will begin half-day preliminary hearings with witnesses – maybe everyone will be wearing masks voluntarily, or be mandated to do so by the court.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9