WHO: Presidio County attorney Rod Ponton
WHAT: Technical difficulties during a legal hearing on Zoom.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: It’s safe to say that we’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue. Video meetings, which at first seemed like an innovative way to connect, have long since become a chore. As you log on to your zillionth virtual check-in, you might wonder which of your colleagues will forget to unmute, how many people will awkwardly talk over one another, and whose face will freeze when the Wi-Fi falters. Plus, just how many of those who’ve turned off their video are still paying attention, if they’re even in the room? It can all be a bit tiring, which is why rare, small moments of levity are the best thing about Zoom: a curious dog or child wandering into the frame, for example. Those moments remind us that we’re not just pixels on a screen but simply very tired humans, doing our best.
One of those moments happened today in a livestreamed hearing of the 394th District Court of Texas in Presidio County. The court was discussing a civil forfeiture case when district attorney Rod Ponton logged on to speak from his office in Presidio. The only problem? He’d accidentally applied a filter that caused him to appear as a fluffy white kitten, as Judge Roy Ferguson, who later shared the clip on Twitter, kindly informed him during the meeting.
The video is short—just over forty seconds long—but it seems destined to endure as one of the crowning examples of the genre, right up there with the plucky toddler who burst in on her dad’s BBC interview back in 2017. I’ve watched it a dozen times, and I’m still not sure if my favorite part is when Ponton’s googly feline eyes shift nervously from side to side or when his furry head nods vigorously as he agrees with Ferguson that yes, he seems to have somehow applied a filter. I’m also partial to the instant when one of the other attorneys leans forward with interest, putting on his reading glasses for a better view.
In the clip, Ponton explains that he and his assistant are trying to figure out how to remove the filter—and then, admirably, he suggests they proceed with business in the meantime. “I’m prepared to go forward with it,” he says. “I’m here live; I’m not a cat.” Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop this man from practicing the law.
The clip ends before Ponton’s real face appears, but he tells Texas Monthly that he and his assistant were able to quickly restore him to human form. “I was sort of shocked,” he says, “that to my surprise, as well as everybody else’s, that cat showed up. Between me, my secretary, and the judge, we removed the filter, and then we just went on with my much less humorous face.” He’s still not sure how it happened; though he’d logged on from his secretary’s computer at his office in Presidio, she doesn’t recall using the cat filter or letting a child use her Zoom account.
Was Ponton embarrassed? “I was at first,” he says, “but the more I think about it, well, shit happens.” He suspects the clip has gone viral because viewers can relate. “These kinds of things have happened to all of us. You never want it to happen in front of a district judge, but it did.”
Judge Ferguson, meanwhile, says he’s just proud that he and his colleagues aren’t letting the pandemic interfere with their work. “It goes hand in hand with the legal community’s effort to continue representing their clients during these difficult times, and the incredible professionalism and dignity displayed by all involved,” he tells Texas Monthly. “Texas courts have held over one million virtual hearings since March 13, 2020.”
Ponton adds, “If the country can have a chuckle at my expense today, I’ll accept it, because we’ve all been going through a stressful time. I just don’t want to repeat it on a frequent basis.”