Socially Distant Hearings

Our office has been hosting Zoom hearings in easement condemnation cases lately – adding yet another function for the old shoe store.

It’s not the most interesting use – that might go the shoe store’s role as the home for religious services for Marshall’s Jewish community after the local synagogue was razed. Or possibly when it was a bakery in the 1870s (the bread oven was right where the door is now) or “Neville’s Place” (shown at right) a few decades later. But it’s still noteworthy.

You might ask why a Zoom call needs a physical location. We started doing this during the local state courthouse’s shutdown this spring so the commissioners appointed to hear pipeline or easement condemnation proceedings in our cases had a place to conduct Zoom hearings – or more specifically there was a physical location they could post where the public could go to attend by Zoom when the courthouse was closed down.

To do this we close off the visiting trial team guest offices from our offices on the other side. The Hub is actually two 1870s storefronts side by side with connecting doors in the front and back and when we renovated the offices ten years ago we made the “rent side” able to be used with our office, or closed off from them depending on our role in a case, so we are literally built for this.

The hearing participants use the separate entrance and don’t enter our core offices – only the guest side. We then set up the commissioners that want to attend live, as it were, on camera in the war room. (Ever wonder what 1 F.2d looks like? It’s there with the next 118 volumes, with Sol and Franklin Jones Sr.’s taped labels on the spines denoting commonly referenced opinions in FELA cases. I keep the ones older than that on my side). The commissioners are distanced and on camera together in the war room. Any counsel attending are in the adjacent conference rooms and offices, also on Zoom, and we have a laptop set up for members of the public in yet another room, as well as seating up front for members of the public to stay before testifying. Of course people can connect remotely – but if they don’t have the equipment to they can come to the Hub and participate via Zoom from here.

As we’ve done these we’ve found better arrangements and techniques, including dispensing with screens and projectors in lieu of paper copies for the commissioners and shared screen for Zoom attendees.

The visiting lead counsel’s balcony provides a different view.

But faced with waiting for courthouses to reopen or giving the state court the option of setting hearings in the Hub, we, and the court opted for the latter, and it’s kept cases moving, which keeps oil & gas exploration locally (such as it is) moving as well.