Audio Problems and Crying Baby Disrupt Defendants’ Preliminary Hearing Over Zoom

By Alex Jimenez, Monica Han and Linhchi Nguyen

SACRAMENTO, CA – Defendants Cassie Clark and Valshawn Weldon faced numerous technical difficulties as they tried to attend their virtual court hearing over Zoom this week in Sacramento County Superior Court.

When Clark and Weldon appeared on the Zoom call, Judge Helena R. Gweon immediately noted she heard significant feedback and audio noises.

And Weldon was out of frame of the camera because she had to tend to a baby, who was crying in the background. At one point, Clark was not able to even communicate with her attorney because her audio seemed to not be working.

The hearing was intended to establish the terms of a plea agreement for Clark and Weldon, who are both charged with willfully and unlawfully obtaining someone else’s identification to access their credit card. They are also charged with forgery and counterfeiting.

Between July 1 and Nov. 30, 2018, the defendants stole personal information from the victim without authorization, and committed a felony violation by making fraudulent transactions from the victim’s bank accounts.

The unlawful transfers made by the defendants were uncovered by Sacramento police through the defendant’s bank account information and records. And when shown to the victim, she confirmed that she did not consent to the transactions.

Although Weldon tried to show up to court in-person, Assistant Public Defender Rod Mayora explained that the courtroom didn’t let her in so she returned home and logged into the Zoom meeting.

Weldon and Clark made appearances from the same location (they live together), but issues with communication persisted with audio disconnection and interference. The background noise caused much disruption Judge Gweon muted the defendants, suggesting that they log out and back in.

“It sounded like the audio issue was that she was playing the [streaming Youtube] video on her screen,” Deputy District Attorney Celeena Wall commented.

When they re-entered, Clark, this time, appeared unable to hear or produce sound, which prompted Judge Gweon to hold up a sign saying ‘Please turn on your audio. We cannot hear you,’ and Mayora had to directly call his client through his phone, telling her to turn on her audio so they could communicate.

In addition, Judge Gweon had a problem with Weldon not being in her sight of view during the hearing.

When the judge called on Weldon to present herself, the judge firmly reminded her “that you are making a court appearance right now.” Weldon responded by telling the judge that she was holding a baby to which Judge Gweon asserted that she needed to be fully present.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the hearing, the court again experienced distracting noises coming from Clark’s video. At this point, Judge Gweon had to tell Clark to “mute yourself when you are not talking” even though Clark still had to respond to the judge regarding the provisions of her plea.

Ever since the courts had to be virtual, these technical difficulties are not uncommon.

Both Clark and Weldon will be returning back to Sacramento Superior Court for their judgement and sentencing on July 26.

Alex Jimenez is a 4th year politcal science major at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. He has future aspirations to attend law school and is from Pleasanton Ca.

Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.

Monica Han is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in English. She is from Los Angeles, California.

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