Pilot Program Allowing Call-In Appearances Relies on Technology, Seeks to Promote Convenience, Access to Justice
by Steven Mroczkowski
(FROM NOVEMBER 2014 PAGE 11)
The next time that you are in courtroom 2007 for a hearing, don’t be surprised if you hear, but do not see, all of the litigants with cases on Judge Bonnie Wheaton’s call. On September 15, 2014, Judge Wheaton launched a pilot program in partnership with Court Call, LLC that allows litigants to appear by telephone for agreed orders, uncontested matters, routine status hearings, case management conferences, and motions of course, unless otherwise ordered by the Court.*
Since 1995, Court Call, LLC has been providing its Remote Appearance Program to various courts across the country in an effort to facilitate convenience and cost savings. The equipment that makes the Remote Appearance Program successful is simple and familiar. The litigant seeking to make a remote appearance only needs a telephone. The participating courtroom is equipped with a conference phone receiver and microphones. Judge Wheaton requires that remote appearances must be arranged no later than 10:00 a.m. on the court day preceding the hearing date, or with leave of Court.* A litigant seeking to make a remote appearance makes arrangements online at www.courtcall.com, or by calling 1-888-882-6878. After locating the participating court and providing case and litigant information, Court Call, LLC sends a confirmation to the litigant that contains call-in instructions, the call-in number, and the call access code. The fee for each remote appearance is $60.00.
On the day of the hearing, the participating litigant dials the call-in number five minutes before the scheduled hearing time, enters the access code, and then waits until the participating court accesses the call. The pilot program functions on Court Call, LLC’s Operator Assisted Platform. A Court Call, LLC representative is on the line for the entire duration of all calls on a particular day. The representative acts as a telephone clerk and has open lines of communication with litigants and the participating court. Thus, if the court has not yet accessed the call, the representative communicates this information to litigants. Or, if the judge needs to take a brief recess, the representative can communicate directly with the judge and all holding litigants to advise them of the recess.
So far, Judge Wheaton has experienced positive results with the pilot program. All equipment has been functioning as expected, calls were clear, and there have not been any technical glitches. The pilot program is not confined to a specific time period, and Judge Wheaton hopes that it will eventually become a permanent component of her courtroom procedure. At this time, Judge Wheaton does not believe that any amendment of the Local Rules is necessary to implement and use the Remote Appearance Program.
Judge Wheaton hopes that the implementation of the pilot program can further several objectives.
It can confer a benefit on attorneys and their clients by reducing travel and wait time for hearings. Remote appearances can also benefit courthouse staff by reducing entry and security backlogs at court entrances, and can reduce the total number of people in a courtroom at a given time making it easier to keep order.
Finally, Judge Wheaton hopes that the use of the pilot program can make justice more accessible and affordable to all litigants.
Judge Wheaton is not alone in her desire to use technology to increase convenience and efficiency in the court system. According to Court Call, LLC, at least one courtroom in Hancock, Knox, Peoria, Tazewell, Kane, Winnebago, McHenry, and Kendall Counties is taking advantage of the Remote Appearance Program.
The pilot program may expand, but at this time is only available in Judge Wheaton’s courtroom. So, for your cases pending in courtroom 2007, there is no need to fear the next Snowmaggedon or unexpected traffic jam. Try Court Call, LLC and let technology do the commuting for you.
* Judge Wheaton’s Complete Rules governing the pilot program can be accessed at http://www.dcba.org/news/187222/Remote-Telephone-Appearances-through-CourtCall-LLC-ourtCall.htm or by visiting courtroom 2007 and requesting a copy.