As most of you know, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, like many courthouses around the country, is using Zoom video conferences to conduct court appearances and hearings. With several weeks of this under our belts, certain personalities for Zoomers have emerged and Cabin Fever-induced irritability has manifested. In the spirit of Stupid Elevator People (and its lesser-known Addendum to the Elevator People), I now present to you the Top 10 Aggravating Zoom People.
10. Zany Background Guy -- I'm not exactly sure why Zoom provides whimsical backdrops for users, but I have to assume that it was designed for kindergarten teachers who need to talk to their students. It's not really necessary for licensed attorneys and judges. From those of you who look like you are broadcasting live from the Golden Gate Bridge to those of you with motivational messages as a background, it really isn't necessary. Most conspicuous offender: Joe Vinas with his "Shall We Play a Game?" backdrop which harkens back to 1983's obscure nerd movie Wargames. Objection, Joe, Relevance.
9. The Radio Prosecutor -- This goes out to the prosecutor who wants to make sure that absolutely nothing about the Zoom video conference gives away anything about his or her personal appearance, including, but not limited to, what they look like without the makeup that they definitely will not be putting on this morning. This prosecutor's video screen is filled only with big block letters announcing his or (usually) her name. When you indignantly read probable cause, your name flashes across the screen like Closed Captioning from the Gods. Most conspicuous offender: Casey Little, whose zealous advocacy on behalf of the State, coupled with her name on the screen, makes it feel like Justice is screaming at you through a bullhorn.
8. The "I'm Not That Great with Technology" Close Talker -- This is the lawyer who has been, um, let's just say "practicing for awhile" that is still trying to figure out what is going on with all of this technology crap. Rather than turning up the speaker on his or her computer, he or she edges in real close to the computer screen and yells into the microphone. It comes across as a really angry extreme close up. Most conspicuous offender: Skip Cornelius, who in a conference yesterday was yelling both when he was angry and when he wasn't. The best part of this video was seeing his brother, Terry, standing over Skip's shoulder through the whole thing. I couldn't tell if Terry was Skip's tech help or just waiting on him to go play golf.
7. The "Hey! I just got here!" Guy --This tone-deaf Zoomer is the guy who just logged into a Zoom docket that has been going for some time, but seems unaware of the fact that his arrival is really not that remarkable of an event. Upon logging on, he or she immediately begins talking to the judge as if the judge had been sitting there all morning just waiting for the lawyer to arrive. I'm not sure if this is a lack of technology awareness or just simple rudeness. Would you walk into a courtroom under normal circumstances and immediately demand attention? No? Then mute yourself and shut up until called upon. Most conspicuous offender: Every criminal defense attorney who has been licensed for less than a year.
6. The Grey Poupon Background Guy -- This is the lawyer who has found the most sophisticated looking place to set up his or her computer so that you can admire the interior decorating. Whether you are sitting in front of your diplomas at your office (yes, Brian Roberts, we all are licensed by the State Bar of Texas) or just want to show how nice your house is, we get it. You are fancier than the guys in the Grey Poupon commercials. Most conspicuous offender: Todd Dupont, who strategically placed his computer camera facing a doorway with perfectly balanced, tasteful artwork on either side of it. It was elegant and understated. Less elegant and understated: the short sleeve buttondown shirt you were wearing. Hey, Detective Sipowicz, NYPD Blue went off the air in 2005.
5. The Muting Refuser -- Here's a fun fact about Zoom that some people seem to have not picked up on yet. When you are the person talking (or making noise), the software gives you the spotlight and you take up the main screen. Kind of like in an interview via satellite on the news. Some Zoom participants either don't know how to mute their microphones or just refuse to. Every time they (or someone or something at their location) makes a noise, we all hear it and the camera cuts to you. If your dogs are barking or your kids are yelling, we can all hear it and we know it is coming from you because the camera zooms in on your face. Most conspicuous offender: Eileen Bogar, who recently seemed to be battling allergies during a Zoom conference. Her sniffling and sneezing led to multiple staccato cutaways to her like a Claritin commercial meshing with a 1990s Pop Art video while other lawyers were talking to the judge.
4. The "I'm here to Socialize" Guy -- This goes out to the attorney whose business with court was brief and concluded, but still keeps on talking to the judge, prosecutor and/or other attorneys, much to the aggravation of the other attorneys waiting to speak to the Court. Shut up, man. Some of us need to get done with this Zoom conference so we can catch The Price Is Right. Most conspicuous offender: Murray Newman. Sorry, everybody. I miss y'all!
3. The "I'm Not In Court, You Can't Tell Me What to Wear" Guy -- Sure, it's a pandemic and we are all broadcasting from home. None of us are dressed in our Sunday Best, exactly. I've modeled some of my finest concert t-shirts from the past decade myself. But then there's that guy who has to take it a step too far by clearly getting dressed (or not) to show his irreverence for the situation. Apparently, this became so out of control in Florida (go figure) that a judge had to drop the hammer on some attorneys who were appearing a little too laid back in their video appearances. Most conspicuous offender: Mark Lipkin, who is rumored to have appeared shirtless in a recent Zoom appearance in court.
2. The Boring Background Prosecutor -- This one describes the prosecutor with the least imaginative background while talking. While some prosecutors are sitting at their breakfast table or perhaps home office, the Boring Background Prosecutor has selected the blandest setting possible to set up shop. Also qualifying under this category is the prosecutor who has selected something really boring as their artificial backdrop. Seriously, if you are going to use a backdrop, be somewhat imaginative. A courtroom setting and/or a view of the CJC, for instance, is lame, Ryan McLearen. Most conspicuous offender: Cristina Platter, who conferenced in from a white-walled room devoid of photos, artwork, windows, or color. I was concerned that perhaps she had broken into a vacant apartment for the conference call. Seriously, I've seen hostage videos filmed in locations that showed more pizzazz.
1. The "Let Me Take You on A Journey" Attorney -- This is the lawyer on a laptop who just can't sit still while waiting for his or her turn to talk. He or she picks up the laptop and goes for a stroll around the house. This, as it turns out, also makes the camera cut to you and gives everyone watching the screen a severe case of sea sickness-induced nausea. For the love of God, please stop. I will chip in to get you a desktop, just please stop moving. You have the option of turning the camera off for whatever reason you need. Movement is one of those reasons! Most conspicuous offender: Beth Exley, who took us all on an IMAX-worthy-tour-of-her-house-as-seen-over-her-shoulder yesterday in the 185th Zoom conference.
So, there you have it. If you have additional categories that you would like to add, please do so in the comments. If I named you in this post, don't be mad. I wouldn't have named you if I didn't think you could take a joke!