I’m not a cat, lawyer tells judge. It’s just my Zoom filter is stuck

Attorney Rod Ponton tells court he is unable to undo effect in remote civil-forfeiture hearing

When Judge Roy Ferguson opened up virtual proceedings of the 394th Judicial District Court in Texas on Zoom on Tuesday, he was not expecting to see two lawyers and a kitten.

 

It was a civil-forfeiture case hearing like any other hearing, except for the lawyer cat. Courts usually don’t let cats argue cases. But here was Rod Ponton, an attorney in Texas, unable to figure out how to turn off the cat filter on his Zoom call during a hearing on Tuesday.

The result was a video immediately hailed across the internet as an instant classic, in the rarefied company of classics like Knife Kid and BBC Dad. It offered an injection of harmless levity when many people are experiencing a rough time – and Ponton took it in good spirits.

“If I can make the country chuckle for a moment in these difficult times they’re going through, I’m happy to let them do that at my expense,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon.

Though the shared recording was less than a minute long, its comedy unfurled second by second, as if it were meticulously scripted. “Mr Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings,” Judge Roy Ferguson, presiding over the case, begins by telling Ponton in the video.

“Augggh,” an exasperated Ponton responds, as his kitten face looks forlornly at the corner of the screen, its eyes seeming to be full of terror, shame and sadness. “Can you hear me, Judge?” he asks, although the audio was never at issue.

H Gibbs Bauer, another lawyer on the call, puts his glasses on and leans forward to better examine the wonder on his screen. He adjusts his tie, as if subconsciously aware of his supporting role, but keeps a straight face. As does a stone-faced man in another box, identified as Jerry L Phillips, seemingly unfazed by the cat.

Ponton continues. “I don’t know how to remove it,” he says. “I’ve got my assistant here and she’s trying to.” To get the hearing moving, he offers: “I’m prepared to go forward with it.” Then, crucially, he clarifies: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”

This causes Phillips to look up, and, finally, the exchange draws a smile and a laugh from him as Ferguson responds: “I can see that.”

In the interview, Ponton, who was representing the state of Texas in the case, said that he was using his secretary’s computer and that she was “mortified” by the mistake. He isn’t on Twitter, and didn’t know he had become an international phenomenon until he started getting calls from reporters barely more than an hour after the hearing ended, he said. The video was on the court’s YouTube page, and Ferguson himself tweeted out a link.

All in all, the episode took less than a minute before he figured out how to turn the filter off, and they returned to business as usual. “My older and less humorous face popped up, and we continued with the hearing,” he said. – New York Times

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