- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2020

The Zoom videoconferencing platform is fast becoming the judiciary’s technology of choice to conduct business while following social distancing requirements for the coronavirus pandemic.

Zoom has been the clear winner in the videoconferencing game, filling the demand for family gatherings, business meetings and now judicial proceedings when people can’t meet physically because of health fears.

The company’s estimated value this week hovered around $38 billion, exceeding that of American Airlines, Hilton and Expedia combined.

The Texas Supreme Court conducted its first-ever oral argument by Zoom this weekend.

Blake Hawthorne, the Texas Supreme Court clerk, said the justices had previously conducted a judicial conference via Zoom during the coronavirus outbreak, but this weekend marked the first time the justices appeared live on YouTube using the platform to conduct oral arguments.

Courts from across the country have sought Mr. Hawthorne’s advice for using videoconferencing technology.

“The advice that I’m giving to all the courts is that practice makes perfect,” he said. “We conducted practice sessions, met with all the lawyers at least once, some three times. It’s not something you just want to turn on and use.”

Mr. Hawthorne said he photographed the court for use in the automated background behind each of the justices, who were instructed to wear their robes despite not physically being in the courtroom — and he shipped robes to those who could not claim theirs at the court.

The Kansas Supreme Court similarly held oral arguments via Zoom for the first time this weekend to hear emergency arguments in a case about restrictions on church services for Easter. The justices appeared Saturday morning from their home offices, electing not to use the background that Kansas Supreme Court spokeswoman Lisa Taylor created for the justices.

Ms. Taylor said when she demonstrated the technology for the justices, some of her hair blended in with the background of the court behind her.

“You have to have a green screen and really good lighting to make it look really good,” Ms. Taylor said. “They were not particularly impressed.”

The justices were far more impressed with the Zoom technology itself, however, and both justices in Kansas and Texas intend to use Zoom again when they conduct arguments this week and later this month.

Zoom’s successful application is not without risk, however.

Some Zoom data was erroneously routed through China, where the company has a large research and development and data center presence. Zoom admitted its failure to geo-fence the data from China amid its efforts to meet demand worldwide, and some of the company’s main applications were reportedly developed with the assistance of Chinese companies.

The FBI’s Boston office also issued a warning last month about “Zoom-bombing,” regarding hooligans hijacking the videoconference streams. Ms. Taylor said the Kansas Supreme Court was aware of the cybersecurity concerns but the court’s information technology department took steps to minimize the risk and she said she was aware of Zoom’s upgrading its tech too.

To mitigate the hacking risk, Mr. Hawthorne recommends not publicly sharing the link to your meeting, having a host who admits people into the meeting, and turning off screen sharing.

He does not think the Zoom technology advantages anyone at oral argument, but it may eliminate travel hassles while also adding stress for those who have not used the videoconferencing technology in such a high-stakes manner.

“If we didn’t have to conduct arguments this way, we wouldn’t,” Mr. Hawthorne said.

Precisely how much longer courts will need to use Zoom is unknown, but they are preparing to use it indefinitely.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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