February 11, 2013
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
Witness testifies via Skype at Daley Center proceeding
By: Jerry Crimmins
A witness testified to a judge at the Daley Center on an iPad via Skype last week.
One attorney said she thought this Skype testimony was a first for Illinois.
Attorney Marie C. Fahnert said she held her iPad in her hands for much of the 90-minute hearing.
"At one point, I did put it in a corner of the judge's bench," she said. "I was scared it would fall off."
Fahnert used her own Skype account for the hearing, held in a courtroom on the concourse level.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 241, adopted in 2011, says a judge may, "for good cause shown in compelling circumstances and upon appropriate safeguards, permit presentation of testimony in open court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location."
Fahnert said she proposed the Skype method of testimony for her bedridden client, Emil Kogan.
Kogan sought an extension for a plenary order of protection granted more than a year ago against the woman he is divorcing, Abella Edelstein.
Cook County Circuit Judge Carole Kamin Bellows granted the request for video testimony in January. Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Kelley heard the testimony Tuesday.
Attorney Alexander Tolmatsky, who represents Edelstein, said the Skype call was "a lot easier for everybody" compared to the arrangements made the last time Kogan needed to testify.
In December 2011, the attorneys in the case, Cook County Circuit Judge Pamela E. Loza and courtroom personnel held a proceeding in Kogan's living room in Morton Grove.
Fahnert said this time Kogan testified from bed in his home via a laptop computer.
"There was a lot of time spent trying to get the stuff to work," Fahnert said. "I think the second time it won't be so tiring."
The attorneys stood in front of the judge in the traditional manner, Fahnert said, and the court reporter also occupied the typical position.
Most importantly, Fahnert said, the judge and attorneys got to see the witness' face on screen.
"My client's face spoke volumes," Fahnert said.
Tolmatsky, though, said the Skype connection wasn't great, since it used an over-the-air-signal and not Wi-Fi.
But Skype "served the purpose and we achieved whatever we had to do," Tolmatsky said.
Much better equipment would be required to use Skype testimony in a more significant hearing, Tolmatsky said. Individual large screens would be needed for a jury, the judge and the lawyers — or at least one large screen for all parties to see, he said.
He said he did participate in a case in the last six months in the Daley Center in which a witness testified through video conferencing technology.
Michael Carroll, director of information services for Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans' office, said the Daley Center has no Wi-Fi in the courtrooms or the corridors. It has one mobile video conferencing system for use in civil courtrooms.
That technology can only be used for one hearing at a time, he said, and requires the remote party to dial in from outside.
The judge presiding in the case first must decide if there is good reason to allow this, Carroll said.
Fahnert suggested anyone who tries testimony via Skype practice with the client first, make sure the client is lit well and get a headset with a microphone for the client to hear and speak into.
And don't forget to bring a stand to hold the iPad, Fahnert said.
"It is hard to do double duty as a lawyer and a video person," she said.
The case is In re the Marriage of Emil Kogan and Abella Edelstein, No. 11 D 6885.