Virtual Public Access to Ohio Court Proceedings
The Supreme Court of Ohio is committed to instilling public trust and confidence in the judiciary through public access to court proceedings virtually. The Supreme Court livestreams its oral arguments regularly in accordance with justice being administered in an open court. [Ohio Constitution, Article I, Section 16] Below are links to the Supreme Court of Ohio and related archives, appellate, and trial courts that live stream court proceedings.
There are several platforms available for courts to use when conducting remote hearings. Whether you are using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, Lifesize, CourtCall, BlueJeans, or Amazon Chime, [The Supreme Court of Ohio is not endorsing any of these services and products.] to name a few, there are a myriad of recommendations for a court to consider. If your court has not yet selected its video conferencing platform, view the Quick How-to Guide: Selecting Technology for Virtual Court for helpful information.
How to Use Remote Platforms Resources
To increase public access for viewers who are deaf or have hearing loss, consider using closed captioning. Here are more details on how to provide this feature: https://vidooly.com/blog/add-closed-captions-on-youtube/
The court should consider these items before live streaming:
- Turn off comments and likes and dislikes on the YouTube channel or other platform.
- Each judicial officer should have his or her own channel.
- Prepare judicial officers of the view on camera and always be aware of facial expressions. Judicial officers should ensure the background and that he or she is camera ready because this is the view that participants or juries are seeing.
- Ground rules for courts and policy would be helpful. Prepare judicial officers about displaying patience and providing ground rules for participants is important.
- Determine who will handle technology issues. Instructions about bandwidth issues would be helpful to participants. It was brought up that concerns about signal strength or access to a hearing by parties could be a concern for appeals. Provide instructions to participants that they could use a phone horizontally and unable to distinguish between a phone and computer.
- Identify a phone and/or email contact for participants for assistance.
- Having participants acknowledge consent on the record that the proceedings are being live streamed.
- Including language in the notice to appear that the hearing will be live streamed.
Below are instructions to live stream on YouTube from different platforms, including Zoom, WebEx and other platforms that require a third party application.
Zoom | WebEx YouTube Streaming
- Create a Google Account:
- Create a YouTube Channel:
- Note: After creating a new YouTube Channel, it can take up to 24 hours for it to be verified.
- Stream via YouTube
- If your virtual meeting platform is Zoom | https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360028478292-Streaming-a-Meeting-or-Webinar-on-YouTube-Live#h_5b4dcbbe-8930-4a8f-8e29-d1bf054022cb
- If your virtual meeting platform is WebEx | https://help.webex.com/en-us/d9zqvi/Stream-Your-Webex-Meetings-or-Events-on-YouTube
- Share your channel’s URL with your intended audience
YouTube streaming using other platforms will likely require a third party application, such as "OBS"
- Follow steps 1-2 above.
- Download and install OBS
- Open and configure OBS
- Open and start your virtual meeting platform
- In OBS, choose your virtual meeting session/monitor as one of your OBS sources
- Start streaming
There is a lot of upfront work required to prepare for conducting a remote hearing before the first one is even scheduled. Work on the front end will save time during the hearings and avoid continuances due to technical difficulties. [It is important to consider the resources needed to conduct remote hearings vs. in-person hearings in light of the social distancing requirements and other public health restrictions currently in place.]
- Develop protocols for how the court will receive and share documents, exhibits, or other paperwork in advance so that they can be reviewed and shared by the participants. Consider creating a court-specific portal or other services such as Dropbox or WeTransfer [Consider accommodations required for visually impaired participants.]. Documents that are shared and reviewed ahead of time can save time during the hearing.
- Make sure there are alternatives available for self-represented litigants who do not have the capability of using such services for uploading documents.
- Implement a procedure for accepting electronic signatures whether that is on the front end for electronic filing or the backend where parties may be signing a settlement agreement.
- This may require adopting a new local rule or administrative practice.
- There are paid and free services available where documents can be exchanged and digitally signed (e.g. DocuSign, Adobe Sign, HelloSign).
- Develop a system for obtaining necessary contact information from required participants. [See Sample Contact Information Form]
- Determine a process for when an interpreter is needed. [Roster of Court Interpreters who are available by phone or video.] Some platforms offer a closed captioning and also the capability for an interpreter to directly address an individual with limited English proficiency or who is deaf or hard of hearing. [National Center for State Courts, Video Remote Interpretation Solutions & Resources for Courts, June 2020.]
- Determine how to accommodate any ADA disabilities (e.g. providing closed captioning for a party with a hearing impairment).
- If you are requiring parties to consent to participating in a remote hearing, formalize this process. [Chesterfield County Virginia allows parties to submit a Motion for Remote Hearing in non-emergency matters.] Make sure you determine:
- How consent will be obtained (e.g. form)?
- Whether consent can be withdrawn and if so, at what point?
- When requiring consent, best practice is to obtain both written and oral consent where allowable.
When using external products, be mindful of:
- Security issues
- ADA accommodations
- Access to technological resources
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE on your platform. Explore the various features that your platform may offer. It is important that you and your staff are comfortable using and helping others use the application you have selected. Watch tutorial videos and conduct test hearings to increase your comfort level. It is likely that something unexpected will occur at some point; therefore, it is important to have a contingency plan in place.
Platforms offer a wide variety of features that you can use to conduct your hearing such as:
- “Break-out rooms” for confidential conversations;
- It is important that these conversations are not recorded. If by chance, a conversation is recorded, the court should not view or store the audio file.
- “On-hold” feature to disable video, audio, and chat access;
- Ability to “lock” a meeting after it has been started to prohibit additional participants from joining;
- “Waiting room” where participants remain until admitted into the meeting by the organizer;
- “Raise your hand” feature that can be used for asking questions, requesting breaks/recesses, raising objections,
- Whiteboarding and screen annotating functionalities; and
- Customizable greeting or message when participants enter the “waiting room.”
It is important to note that remote hearings may not be a feasible option for all participants. Some parties may not have access to a smartphone or may have limited minutes or data plans. Consider compiling a list of possible work arounds and available resources for those unable to participate.
The likelihood of the remote hearing being successful greatly hinges on the ability of the attendees to effectively join and participate. Participants may be unfamiliar with conference call lines or video conferencing, or anxious about using them; the court can include instructions and resources along with the notice for the hearing. You may want to develop separate instructions for attorneys and litigants (for instance, for courts that have e-filing only for attorney and want attorneys to use that system whenever possible). Remember to use plain language when communicating with participants and reiterate they should not appear in person at the courthouse. [National Center for Court Management, Plain Language Guide(updated January 7, 2019)]
Obtaining email addresses from the necessary participants may prove to be a challenge; therefore, you may want to consider delivering the instructions and remote hearing information electronically and also by paper to help ensure receipt. [See Sample Summons to Appear by Video – Juvenile Court]
Make sure to include:
- Information explaining the party’s rights or other documents that would be included or available for an in-person hearing.
- An explanation of what the participants should expect upon joining the meeting.
- A reminder to not appear in person at the courthouse on the hearing date.
- Instructions for submitting exhibits or notifying the court of witnesses.
- Contact information where they can get assistance if there are questions and how to update the court if their contact information changes.
- A recommendation to counsel and parties to communicate prior to the hearing and stipulate as much as practicable.
- Instructions on what do to if they have difficulty joining the hearing or if they get disconnected during the proceeding. Have a designated phone number for participants to call to inform the court.
Helpful instructions to your participants:
- Visit the video conferencing website for helpful instructions on how to use the platform or application before your scheduled proceeding.
- Test your camera, speaker, and microphone in advance.
- Dress like you would if you were appearing in court.
- Limit distractions during the proceeding. Find a quiet place to participate.
- Place your camera/phone/tablet in a stationary place to minimize unnecessary movement.
- Make sure others using your Wi-Fi network minimize their use so that it does not disrupt your connection.
- Wait to speak until you are called on by the court and do not talk over others.
- Keep yourself on mute until it is your turn to talk.
- Do not use a virtual background.
- You should be in a room alone, unless with counsel spaced appropriately apart.
- Do not share the log on information and password with others.
- Recording by anyone beside the court is not permitted, unless the court gives permission prior to the hearing.
- Make sure your profile or screen name matches the one that the court has on file. You should use your first and last name.
- Explain the appropriate use of the chat feature.
Instructions for Participants Resources
- Michigan Legal Help Center: What to Expect at a Virtual Zoom Hearing
- Zoom Tutorial: How to Join a Meeting
- Arapahoe County, Colorado: WebEx Instructions for Court Participants
- Hawaii State Judiciary: Remote Court Hearings via Zoom or WebEx
- New York Courts: How to Appear in Virtual Court - Skype
- Akron Municipal Small Claims Court Zoom Instructions
It is important to set ground rules for running a virtual hearing as this is new to most participants. Make sure to provide the ground rules to the parties prior to the hearing so they know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Address such items as:
- Parties should wait to speak until called on by the court and should not talk over others.
- Documents: Share any documents/exhibits that will be reviewed in advance. Use the “share screen” function while documents are being discussed during the hearing. Request that the documents are pre-marked for exhibit purposes.
- Witnesses: Consider providing specific rules and instructions for witnesses (i.e. to be alone, avoid using notes). Determine whether they can testify by phone and/or video and how you will administer the oath. [Telephonic testimony may make it difficult to determine the witness’s credibility.] Make sure to include their email address and/or phone number on the witness list.
- Develop a process of verifying the participant’s identity such as holding a driver’s license or other government-issued ID near the individual’s face upon joining the proceeding.
- Sidebar and Attorney-Client Conversations: Consider using break out rooms or private chat features. [Under Prof.Cond.R. 1.4, a lawyer has a duty to consult with and keep his client reasonably informed about matters concerning the case.] Reiterate that these conversations will not be recorded.
- Breaks/Recesses: Develop a process for requesting breaks or recesses (i.e. put the request in the chat box, raise your hand). Make sure to inform participants that they should refrain from leaving the room or the camera without first asking to do so.
- Chat Box: Set parameters for using the chat feature if you decide to use this functionality as there could be an appearance of impropriety and constitute ex parte communication.
Reiterate these rules at the beginning of the hearing.
There are multiple ways for the court to record the virtual hearing. Most video conferencing platforms have a recording feature where the audio file can be stored in the platform’s cloud or downloaded and stored on the court’s network. This method is oftentimes used if the judge and court staff are working remotely. Courts can also configure the platform into its existing audio system and record the proceeding as it normally would.
Any conversations that take place in break-out rooms between an attorney and client should not be recorded. In the event that this mistakenly occurs, the recording should be immediately deleted and should not be viewed.
Regardless of the method, make sure that the proceeding is recorded and a copy is stored/backed up according to the court’s retention schedule. [Note: some platforms offer closed captioning functionality. It is not recommended that this be used to create an official transcript of the proceeding.] You may need to update your records retention schedule if necessary to incorporate video recording files.
The court should instruct the litigants, attorneys, and the public to not record the hearing.
There are numerous logistical details to manage during the actual virtual hearing. It may be beneficial to designate a staff member to serve as the “host” or “organizer” of the video conference platform so that you can focus on handling the substantive and procedural matters of the hearing.
- Draft a script for the beginning of each proceeding with instructions, ground rules, admonishments, etc.[See Sample Introduction Script]
- Consider having a dedicated staff member attend the proceeding as the “host” or “organizer” to help manage and troubleshoot any technical difficulties.
- If you are not in your courtroom, consider using a virtual background of your courtroom to help simulate a “court-like” experience. A solid backdrop and sufficient lighting help to make the image display correctly.
- Utilize “waiting room” features to control who can join the proceeding. The waiting room can also be used as a holding room for witnesses.
- Verify attendees as they join the meeting. Immediately remove anyone who is uninvited.
- Remind participants to look into the camera and to speak one at a time. There can be a delay in the audio, so each speaker should pause prior to speaking.
- Make sure any required waivers have been obtained and are acknowledged at the beginning of the proceeding.
- Address public access accommodations that have been made if any. Have participants mute themselves when not talking to minimize background noise.
- Reiterate that unauthorized recording of the proceeding is prohibited.
- Instruct participants what to do if they experience technical difficulties. Consider having a separate phone number not associated with the remote platform for the participant to call if they are unable to join or rejoin the hearing.
- Have a contingency plan for what happens if the technology fails including a process to notify participants that the proceeding has to be continued.
Be aware of your actions – facial expressions, body language, and gestures. Even more so than in a live courtroom, all eyes are watching you. Exaggerated movements can be distracting to the speaker and the audience.
Conducting Hearings Resources
The separation of witnesses called to testify at a hearing is always a concern. This is further complicated when the witness is testifying remotely. Below are some practices that assist in ameliorating these concerns.
- Determine whether it is appropriate for the witness to appear by video and how you will administer the oath.
- Utilize virtual “waiting room” features for witnesses and only admit them when they are to be called to testify.
- Consider providing specific rules and instructions for witnesses such as the witness:
- Must be alone in a quiet room during their testimony
- May not use a virtual background
- Are ordered, subject to contempt of court, to turn off all electronic devices except the device enabling participation in the hearing and to refrain from exchanging any electronic messages during testimony
- Is prohibited from using notes
- The court can direct that witnesses must testify from different physical locations from other witnesses and unable to hear the testimony, except as may be otherwise agreed by the parties on the record.
- Consider confirming that the witness is alone by requiring him or her to use his or her camera to scan the room before and after testimony and noting this for the record.
- Should the court determine that further steps for sequestration are necessary, the court could post a recording of the proceeding after the hearing, rather than the live streaming it or determine some other mechanism that ensures the witness is unable to view the live-streamed proceeding.
- In the order for the hearing, include in remote hearing order language such as: There shall be a separation of witnesses and no witness shall participate in or listen to the hearing except when he or she is testifying. All witnesses will be placed by the Court in a “virtual waiting room” until they testify. If a witness is physically located at the same place as a party, counsel, or other witness, he or she shall physically stay in a separate room except when testifying.
It is important to evaluate the use and success of remote proceedings. What worked well and what did not? For what types of hearings is a remote platform best suited? Courts should keep track of the number and types of cases being conducted virtually and determine how best to incorporate the use of video conferencing in the normal course of business. Conduct an exit survey on the experience, using CourTools Measure 1. It is also translated into Spanish.