138. Glitch in the Court System

Sunday March 14 2021

You know, a year ago “zoom” was the sound emanating an animated car. Or slang for someone moving nicely through a task – that “she just zoomed along.” Now, like other unassuming words that became modern common-speak (such as basic, cancelled, doodle, ghosting, GOAT, and the unfortunate pronoun Karen) we’ve had Zoom force its way into our consciousness.

Despite its dodgy start, what with the lack of security features then, Zoom has become the go-to for online video meetings. Over this past year, they seem to have a lot of things straightened out so that schools, businesses, and non-profits can afford to gather together in a digital format without a lot of worry about harassment by hackers and other ne’er-do-wells.

And yet, this happened. No shade thrown on Zoom, because this is a bigger problem than any online meeting platform is designed to manage. Nope, this is on our court systems.

A lot of court hearings are being held online today, instead of inside the courtroom because COVID-19. Apparently, it’s been going reasonably well, although we hear of the occasional blip like the plastic surgeon in California (of course it was California) who was actually performing an operation while on a Zoom call with the courts about a traffic violation.

“I’m in an operating room,” he replied. “Yes I’m available for trial. Go right ahead”,”

-Asshole plastic surgeon in California, February 26 2021

Survey time! On a scale of one to ten, how arrogant do you think California plastic surgeons are and yeah, we agree that the scale should go to eleven.

Even the sad kitten-filter lawyer can’t compete with that. At least that was ridulous adorable.

But what happened in Michigan this week was beyond concerning.

A young woman was testifying against her former partner for domestic abuse via a video Zoom call with the district court of Sturgis County. Along with the presiding judge and attorneys, her alleged abuser was on the call as well.

Not long into the video call, the woman’s attorney has an intuition that something is off.

In the video, the victim is giving vague and delayed responses to questions and keeps looking off to the side. The alleged abuser can’t stand still and is moving around. So the prosecuting attorney calls a time-out and tells the judge that she suspects both the victim and the abuser are in the same apartment at this time.

Holy shit.

Abusive relationships are complex things. In too many cases, there’s just too much in play for the women to simply leave the relationship and change the locks. In this young woman’s case, she’s fortunate her attorney was savvy enough to understand this.

And sure, it turns out the guy was in the victim’s apartment while they both were on the Zoom call with the court. The cops showed up, knocked the cigarette out his mouth, and handcuffed him while the judge told him to just stop talking before he dug a bigger hole. His victim intimidation brought charges of obstruction of justice, along with a cancellation of his bond. More charges are pending.

The judge stated this was “a first” where he “ever had anybody sitting in the next room potentially intimidating a witness to assault,” to which I have to declare are you effin’ kidding me. Sure, maybe the first time they had a prosecuting attorney in Sturgis who knew what to watch for in body language. But we also have to consider where this has happened elsewhere over the last year.

When those in power of the legal system were deciding that presiding court sessions over Zoom were better than spreading germs in a courtroom, what criteria was discussed? What were the what-ifs? Basic things like what if the victim and accuser were in the same home during the Zoom call? Besides two partners at violent odds, what happens when children are involved? Or elderly parents who are dependents?

Because in our legal system, the accused are merely charged with a crime until proven guilty, while the victims are always just that. Victims.

Was this case just a cautionary tale or is it actually a systemic issue that needs addressing?

I don’t know the answers. I’m just asking questions here.

And I hope that the young woman is safe and has the resources to stay that way.

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