Livestream Difficulties Again Cause Major Courtroom Difficulties – for Everyone

By Max Kennedy

FRESNO – Zoom livestream difficulties disrupted Gerardo Castillo’s domestic violence preliminary hearing even before it began last week in the courtroom of Fresno County Superior Court Judge Francine Zepeda.

When the primary witness joined via Zoom, her connection was immediately unstable. “Everything is very choppy,” said Judge Zepeda, “We can’t hear you.”

“Can you not move around?” asked Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz, because remaining in one place did not improve the grainy video or jumpy audio.

Prosecutor Janz called the witness directly on her phone in an attempt to solve the technical issues. At his recommendation, the witness tested new locations around her apartment and even tried standing outside in the rain while searching for better reception.

Janz assured the court that the witness had used Zoom successfully in the past from her apartment, but this day nothing seemed to work.

For a brief moment, the video and audio came in more clearly, but the witness was unable to see the defendant for identification.

The witness’ view was using “Speaker View” on Zoom, which shows only the most recent person who has spoken, and the defendant remained silent and therefore out of view. “She needs to do an ID,” said Judge Zepeda.

Because “Speaker View” on Zoom focuses on whomever is speaking, DDA Janz offered to stand near the defendant and “make sounds into the microphone” to attempt to change the view to the defendant on Zoom, but the court demurred.

“There’s a problem with her audio,” said Judge Zepeda. “She is standing out in the rain while giving testimony in a prelim… It is not going to work this way,” the judge continued as the witness repeatedly lost connection. Judge Zepeda then rescheduled the hearing for February.

The defense questioned why the witness could not appear in person. Judge Zepeda explained that the witness had booked childcare for the morning, but the hearing had been delayed until the afternoon and the witness had to take care of her child.

The defense also noted that the defendant had missed a job interview to attend the hearing. “I am sorry,” the public defender could be heard telling the defendant as the hearing was postponed. The public defender sounded earnest, and frustrated.

DDA Janz retorted that the witness had also skipped work to attend. Everyone present indicated they would prefer not to reschedule the hearing, but the technical issues could not be resolved.

While the court attempted to reschedule, the witness regained connection and said, “I am sorry, I still can’t hear anything.”

“I am sorry. I get it. Quarantine is killing us,” said Judge Zepeda.

Max Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a degree in History. He is an intern with the San Francisco Public Defender and most recently worked as a digital organizer with Joe Biden for President.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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