Virtual hearings at Seattle Municipal Court

Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) implemented virtual hearings for criminal cases and contested infraction cases in fall 2020. Virtual hearings have allowed hundreds of cases to proceed throughout the winter and into 2021, so that court involved people can safely have their day in court despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

People can access virtual courtrooms online and participate in their hearing by video on their computer, smartphone or tablet, or by audio-only if they call into the meeting on their phone. Court staff are available in the virtual courtrooms to place participants into breakout rooms with their attorneys as needed, and to help participants with other technical needs. Instructions for participating in SMC’s virtual hearings are available on the court’s website in Spanish, Chinese, Somali, Vietnamese, and Russian, and SMC offers free interpretation services for any limited English proficient (LEP), deaf, and hearing-impaired persons.

SMC’s virtual hearings are held using WebEx video/telephone conferencing. Several court staff are present at the courthouse in order to administer the WebEx hearings. This allows all other parties—defendants, attorneys, court observers—to participate remotely. For those who need assistance or who do not have access to technology to participate in their hearing remotely, SMC offers a physically distanced computer lab in the courthouse.

Before the pandemic, there was a great deal of paperwork passed around during a typical court calendar. Now, all necessary court forms and motions are set up in Adobe Sign workflows, so that documents can be easily transmitted between different parties during a virtual hearing.

While many courts are using Zoom for their video hearings, the City of Seattle chose to use Cisco WebEx because of its enhanced security and data privacy features. For example, WebEx automatically protects user data, instead of requiring users to opt-out of sharing their data.

Thank you to all the court staff, attorneys, and the City of Seattle IT department for your work and collaboration to make virtual hearings a reality. Find more information on the court’s COVID-19 operations here.