In our last installment, we discussed the general orders issued by the court that further continued in-person hearings and deadlines in civil cases. On April 20, 2020, the Clerk of the Court in the Eastern District of Virginia sent out an email announcing a new development that may help civil cases move forward in the Rocket Docket despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the email, beginning the week of April 20, judges in the Eastern District of Virginia have the option to use Zoomgov—a government-oriented version of the popular videoconferencing application—to conduct remote hearings in civil and criminal cases. Case parties will receive email invitations containing applicable connection information to participate along with additional details on a possible test session prior to the actual hearing. The court’s general prohibitions on televising, recording, or photographing any civil or criminal court proceeding still apply. 

Information about the use of Zoomgov and the authorization for doing so appear on the court’s website. The court had previously issued general orders authorizing the use of videoconferencing in criminal cases, as contemplated by Section 15002(b) of the CARES Act, but had not previously directed parties to a particular application to use for that purpose. The court had also discussed in its General Order 2020-11 the importance of maintaining public access to court hearings even if they are conducted by videoconference. The page on the court’s website referenced above now has instructions for “listen only” access to scheduled hearings for the public.

The general orders that the court has issued have only specifically referenced the use of videoconferencing in criminal cases—presumably because of the need to address criminal defendants’ Constitutional rights applicable to court proceedings. The court’s announcement states that it also has authorized judges to use Zoomgov for civil proceedings. That authorization will certainly be welcomed by judges in the Rocket Docket who have been struggling to keep cases moving while protecting court staff, counsel, parties and others during the pandemic

David Deitch leads the White Collar Defense and Corporate Compliance practice at Berenzweig Leonard. David is an experienced white collar trial lawyer who has tried more than 100 jury trials to verdict in federal and state courts around the nation. He can be reached at [email protected]