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Virtual Court

Virtual Court

Some Texas courts will hold hearings by videoconference, usually using Zoom or Webex.

This article includes a brief overview of virtual court hearings in Texas, which were adopted more widely during the coronavirus crisis. 

What are some options if I cannot appear in court in person?

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Texas courts began live-streaming many proceedings. Now it is possible to request to appear in court virtually (usually using video conference platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and CourtCall).   

See Electronic Hearings with Zoom and Asking to Appear in Court by Video or Phone

When can virtual court proceedings be used?

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 21d and 500.10 are the rules governing virtual court proceedings. Virtual court proceedings can be used when they are authorized by the court or by the agreement of the parties. 

How can I appear in a court proceeding without being there physically?

There are a few participating methods of appearance. A judge may allow or require you to appear at a court proceeding by videoconference, teleconference, or other available electronic means. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 21d and 500.10. Typically, virtual court proceedings are conducted through videoconference platforms, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or CourtCall

Can I still go to court if the courthouse has closed?

Many courts in Texas held essential hearings by videoconference during the COVID-19 crisis, usually using Zoom. The Office of Court Administration has put up a guide to the process that includes instructions and links to tutorials. There is also a list of YouTube channels that broadcast from specific Texas courts

The Texas Supreme Court authorized courts to have virtual hearings. Until 2023, this authorization came from emergency orders. Now, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 21d gives courts the ability to offer virtual court.  

If your county's information is not available in TexasLawHelp's Virtual Court: County-by-County section, contact your court’s court coordinator or administrator to see what their procedure is. You can usually find the court coordinator’s contact information on the county’s web page. The best practice for learning this information, if it is not posted on the county's or court's website, is to email the court coordinator.  

Can I just reschedule my hearing?

You can ask the other side if they agree to reschedule the case, and ask the court coordinator by email if this is an option. You will need to Cc: the other side (such as the other parent) and other interested parties (such as the Office of the Attorney General if this is a child support case).  

Or you might try to get a continuance. A continuance changes the date of a court hearing or trial to a later date. You can ask a judge for a continuance by filing a motion for continuance. Read How to Ask for a Continuance.  

Is the virtual courtroom more casual than a regular courtroom?

Consider the videoconference to be a courtroom. It is not meant to be more casual than a physical courtroom. Virtual court is still "real" court. The same etiquette that is expected in a physical courtroom applies to a virtual court proceeding as well.  

Dress neatly. Do not wear printed T-shirts, tank tops, or hats. Dress like you are going to a job interview. If at all possible, a caregiver should help keep your child occupied. Your child should not be in the same room. See Tips for the Courtroom. This is particularly important for cases that involve the parent-child relationship. It is not considered in the best interest of a child to be exposed to courtroom conflict between parents.  

What are the technological requirements to attend court virtually?

All participants much have access to a computer or a mobile device with a camera and microphone, reliable internet connection, and the required software or application. 

Note: You must test your computer or mobile device and the software before your court proceeding to become familiar with it. 

How will I know if I am allowed or required to appear electronically?

If the court allows or requires an appearance by electronic means, the judge must provide you with reasonable notice of the electronic participation, which should be included in the papers of the case. The notice should include instructions for joining the court proceeding, the court's designated point of contact information, and instructions for submitting evidence to be considered in the proceeding. See, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 21d and 500.10

How do I know which videoconferencing software to use?

Contact the court coordinator. If you have a court date, they likely will be sending you an email invitation.  

It is better to wait for an email from the court rather than trying to start your own videoconferencing session because Texas judges have access to professional versions of these platforms that let them control the proceeding (for example, controlling who can talk and when) almost as if it were really in a courthouse. 

See Virtual Court: Technology for more information on videoconferencing or teleconferencing technology. 

I want to show the judge some evidence. How do I do that?

Parties should consult the court to understand the specific procedures for presenting evidence.  

One way it is being done: Email your exhibit to the court coordinator. They can handle it so that the judge, court reporter, and the other side can see your exhibits at the right time during your hearing.  

See Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing and I need to present evidence in a virtual hearing to learn how to offer evidence in a virtual hearing. Also see, Gathering and Presenting Evidence for more information on what evidence is and the rules followed in Texas. 

Some courts may have strict deadlines for sending in documents. You should ask the court coordinator and a lawyer who practices in that jurisdiction to learn how that court is handling this. One way to find a lawyer who practices in your jurisdiction is through a certified lawyer referral service.  

What are some other video conferencing tips?

Practice using your videoconferencing software several days before your hearing. This gives you time to fine-tune your setup and get comfortable with the program. Only so much time is available for your court matter, and you may not want to waste your scheduled time trying to troubleshoot your setup. 

Watch court hearings beforehand at Texas Court Live Streams. But, do not listen to the YouTube stream at the same time in the same room as your hearing, because this can cause feedback that will make it hard for everyone involved to understand and participate in what is going on. 

Some other tips from the Texas Office of Court Administration: 

  • Wear a solid color, not a pattern. Whatever color you wear should not blend into your background (don't wear a blue shirt if you are in front of a blue wall). 

  • When speaking, look directly at the camera, not at the screen. 

  • Position the camera at your eye level or slightly above eye level. 

  • Be mindful of what is behind you. Choose a solid, neutral wall if you can. 

  • Check the lighting. 

  • Light from a window behind you might blind the camera, making you look dark. 

  • Light above you in the center of a room might cast shadows. 

  • Ideally, put a lamp, or sit facing a window, where light is directly on your face. 

  • Also, know that your screen may cast light that can make you look blue. 

  • Speak one at a time and pause prior to speaking in case there is any audio or video lag. 

  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking in order to avoid any potential background noise. 

Important: Test your videoconferencing software connection and setup by testing your connection with a test meeting.  

I am having a hard time with internet access now. What do I do?

Please visit one of our Virtual Court Kiosks.  

See Internet Access. Additionally, TexasLawHelp has a map of places where you can get free internet access during the coronavirus crisis.  

If you are having a hard time getting access to the technology you need, let the court coordinator and other parties know ahead of time. See our internet access map, or call 2-1-1 for suggestions.  

Can I do Zoom court by smartphone?

You can use Zoom on a smartphone to access your court hearing. But you may have better results, based in part on having a steadier internet connection, if you have access to a laptop computer or desktop with a webcam. Zoom may be easier to use on a computer. 

See Zoom on Android: A Tour of Zoom. 

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