Virtual court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic have seen their share of cyber blunders. Participants have appeared naked or with a beer in hand, while an errant video filter turned a Texas attorney into a cat during a Zoom hearing.
In the Silicon Valley last month, an insurance adjuster provided the court an embarrassing hot mic moment.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Roberta Hayashi was seating jurors around her courtroom for social distancing, explaining their juror number might be different than their seat number.
That’s when a voice blurted out, “Oh my God, the judge is a “f—ing idiot.”
The words echoed out of the speakers around the courtroom. Those present said everyone exchanged stares looking for the culprit.
Hayashi responded. “Well, I’m sorry you think I’m an idiot, but I really think you ought to mute your microphone before you say that. And I would appreciate it if you would not use any obscenities in the courtroom, whether you’re remote or not remote. That kind of language is not acceptable.”
“Agreed,” replied the culprit, who would soon be revealed as Vincent San Filippo, a senior adjuster with Liberty Mutual, who was watching the case through the Microsoft Teams communication platform as part of the defense in the case.
The judge, however, wasn’t done. “An apology to the Court would be appropriate about now.”
The insurance adjuster, however, continued to try to explain his profanity-laced outburst. “Yes. Just can’t keep track of your movements on these jurors,” he replied, according to a transcript of the trial proceeding.
The judge, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, interjected, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are instructed to disregard that interchange that just occurred. It is not appropriate. You may not consider it in your consideration of this case.”
She added that if someone couldn’t disregard the profanity-laced exchange, she would have to declare a mistrial.
After jurors shuffled out of the courtroom, Hayashi said she could not be sure who made the comment, but that it seemed to come from the microphone of San Filippo on a video link for the defendants.
“That was the microphone that was lit up when I heard somebody refer to the judge as a ‘f…ing idiot.’ So who was it?”
“I am sorry for the language,” San Filippo replied and then tried to explain. But the judge wanted to know who he was. San Filippo explained that he was monitoring the case for one of the insurance carriers.
“I made a comment that was totally inappropriate. And you should not penalize my insurer, my attorney, or anyone else for that,” he said. “I’m trying to calculate who juror is and I can’t keep track.”
San Filippo could not be reached for comment.
The trial that concluded last week was over a May 2016 serious car collision at a San Jose intersection that left some of those involved injured and needing medical treatment.
“My heart broke when I heard Mr. San Fillipo’s vile comment,” said attorney Shervin Lalezary, who eventually secured a $714,000 verdict for his client last week. “He embarrassed not only the judge but each and every one of us in the courtroom … We were all in utter shock and dismay.”
Hayashi, who spent 25 years as one of Silicon Valley‘s premier employment lawyers, rounded out the session by again addressing the adjuster.
“Mr. San Filippo, your personal frustration is not an excuse for inexcusably rude and disrespectful comments in open court in the presence of this jury,” she said. “Mr. San Filippo, please make sure your microphone is muted when you are monitoring these proceedings.”
The judge and the court so far have not commented on the incident.