Can a Witness or Party Attend Court by Telephone or Video in Florida
Can I attend court by telephone or video in Florida?
Why is it important to be able to attend by phone or video?As a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Florida for over 25 years, this question has come up often. We have a large military population in our area and many of our clients have relocated to other parts of the country or the world. It can be very expensive and difficult for some of our clients to attend court in person.
We will make every effort to accommodate our clients and fight for their ability to appear at Court by electronic communications including telephone, video, or otherwise.
Generally, the parties and all witnesses must appear in court in person. This allows for the most comprehensive participation for the clients and it allows the judge a better opportunity to evaluate the attitude, demeanor, and credibility of the witness. It also allows the participant to have more free-flowing engagement with their attorney during the hearing or trial. However, it can be expensive and inconvenient creating a substantial financial burden.
What is the Law now?Prior to September 28, 2011, there was Florida Rule of Judicial Administration, 2.530 (d) (1) that provided testimony be taken in person unless “all of the parties consent”. Therefore, unless the other party in the case agreed to allow you to attend the hearing by telephone or other electronic communication, then the court had no discretion, but would be required by law to deny your request. You would have been required to attend in person. With the change of the Judicial Administrative Rule, the Court is now permitted to allow participation over an objection if: “…a circuit court judge… may allow testimony to be taken through communication equipment if all parties consent or if permitted by another applicable rule or procedure.”
In January, 2014 the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1.451 took effect and now allows a trial court to permit a witness to testify at a hearing or trial by contemporaneous audio or video communication equipment either by agreement of the parties, or “for good cause shown upon written request of a party upon reasonable notice to all other parties.” The rule was also adopted in 2015 and made applicable in the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure with Rule 12.451.
This question has been addressed by the Third District Court of Appeals for the State of Florida in the case of Edgar v. Firuta 165 So. 3d 758 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015), reversing the lower court denial of consideration to allow telephonic testimony of the Mother relying on Rule 1.451. The Appellate court noted that Rule 1.451 as amended took effect two months prior to the lower court’s ruling, and the court therefore did have discretion to consider telephonic appearance, and that the court was required to consider the mother’s motion and whether or not good cause exist.
The Answer to our Question is....To answer our original question of whether a witness may appear telephonically at trial even over the objection of the other party, the answer is Yes- if conditions are met and the Court grants an Order. The requesting party must make an appropriate motion/request to the court and set forth sufficient grounds or basis upon which the court can find good cause to permit the telephonic attendance. The request must contain the substance of the proposed testimony and an estimate of the length of the proposed testimony. In considering sufficient good cause, the court must consider and address in its order the reasons stated for testimony by telephone or video equipment, against the potential for prejudice to the objecting party.