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May 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Telephonic Court Appearance Services Go Nationwide

A 10-minute appearance in federal court can mean hours caught in traffic or a long plane or train ride for lawyers and others involved in the litigation. Significant savings of time and money could be achieved in some non-evidentiary proceedings if an appearance were, literally, phoned in.

“Telephonic court appearances are very convenient for lawyers, and can significantly reduce their travel time and costs,” said Peter McCabe, Assistant Director of the Administrative Office’s Office of Judges Programs.

Some district and bankruptcy courts already employ that option for proceedings such as status hearings, but master license agreements awarded by the AO to four vendors made telephonic court appearance services more easily available nationwide, effective March 20, 2006.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California has used such a service for longer than a decade. “It certainly has helped bankruptcy trustees and the attorneys who represent the parties, saving some of them from having to travel 280 to 300 miles for a brief appearance,” said Clerk of Court Richard Heltzel.

“Overall, things have been running very smoothly,” he said, adding that users have had to learn a certain etiquette. “Speaker phones are not a good idea, and cell phones can be a problem at times.”

Individual courts can select one or more of the four teleconferencing vendors, who are charged with seamlessly integrating services that result in little or no disruption to a court’s daily activities. No additional duties or responsibilities are created for courtroom staff.

“Judges benefit from using telephonic court appearance services because it helps them run a more efficient courtroom and expedite law and motions proceedings,” McCabe said. “Courts benefit from these services because all of the logistics are handled by the vendors, rather than by the court staff.”

The type of proceeding dictates the number of participants on a call, but the four vendors have the ability to host a maximum of 100 participants on one call—a feature especially important for bankruptcy cases in which many creditors can be affected.

Use of these services is subject to each court’s local policies and procedures. To discover whether telephonic appearance services are offered by a particular court, check with the clerk of court’s office or visit that court’s website.