Attending a virtual hearing by Lisa Cioffi

My name is Lisa Cioffi and I am a new program manager at CASA. Last week, I participated, along with the appointed CASA GAL (and in our case our wonderful CASA attorney), in a preliminary hearing via a telephone conference call with the Court. The process went very smoothly.
Prior to the hearing, I spoke to the Court clerk and the Clerk emailed me written instructions about how to participate in the hearing via conference call. I sent the written instructions to the appointed GAL and we reviewed the instructions together to make sure we were clear about the process and did not have any last minute questions. In fact, the instructions were simple and straightforward – (1) to call a designated number about five minutes before the scheduled hearing time; (2) when prompted punch in a code provided by the court in the written instructions followed by the pound sign; and (3) when prompted say your name followed by the pound sign.
About five minutes prior to the scheduled hearing, I followed the instructions and connected to a conference call with the other parties to the case. The CASA gal also connected successfully to the conference call. As each party called, they joined the conference call. The parties were able to talk to one another as we waited for the hearing to begin – this was an opportunity for the CASA GAL to introduce herself to the parties and ask them to provide contact information to her.
At the scheduled hearing time, the Court clerk came onto the line and had each person on the conference call identify themselves to confirm all the necessary parties were on the call. Then, the Judge came onto the call.
The Judge conducted the hearing as she would typically – although she noted how strange it was for her to be looking out at an empty courtroom. Given that the hearing was happening telephonically, the Judge called on each party to speak in turns and then allowed each party to be heard again if necessary. Finally, before concluding the hearing the Judge asked again if anyone needed to add anything – so there was ample opportunity to address the Court as necessary despite the hearing occurring telephonically. One reminder from the Court during the hearing for each party to identify themselves each time they spoke to that everyone was aware of who was speaking.
Overall the process of participating in the hearing via telephone was very easy. As it always is in our cases, the hard work is performed by the dedicated CASA GAL’s like each of you who advocate tirelessly on behalf of the vulnerable children they serve.