Telephonic appearances by attorneys have been common in certain types of court hearings for years. They have gone mostly unnoticed by the general public, because they have only been used for hearings on motions and other matters that don’t require the presentation of evidence or sworn testimony. These hearing are routine court procedures, not the dramatic trials you see on television.
Allowing some of these routine hearings to be done over the phone saves time for both court staff and attorneys, and thus saves money for clients. Attorneys for both sides may phone in their appearances, or one attorney may phone in while the other appears before the judge (and the judge’s speakerphone). The equipment and scheduling for these calls is usually provided by a private company, which charges a fee for the call. These fees are likely to be less than the cost of traveling to court, especially for an attorney who charges by the hour.
One of the latest trends in court procedure is the availability of telephonic appearances for self-represented parties. California is the leader in this trend, with seven county Superior Courts offering telephonic appearances. Superior courts in six of those counties – Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Merced, San Mateo, and Tuolumneoffer them for some civil hearings. Humboldt and Merced Counties also offer them for some family law hearings; Merced and San Mateo Counties also offer them for some probate hearings. These are sanctioned by California Rules of Court Rule Rule 3.670. Most of these courts use a private vendor, but some departments of Contra Costa Superior court arrange their own calls.
All of these resources can be found at CourtReference’s Guide to California Courts – Self Help and Legal Research page.
As more of these resources are added, they can be found on other states’ Self Help and Legal Research pages – for example, in Maryland. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County offers telephonic appearances through a private vendor for a variety of hearings, even including some criminal hearings.
Depending on where you live and on how fast this nascent trend expands, you may be able to phone in to your hearing instead of driving to the courthouse. Check CourtReference to see if this service is available in your area.