By Donald Wieneke: J/105 Owner/driver; Past Fleet Captain for Fleet One San Francisco; US Sailing National Judge and Regional Race Officer.
Contributions by Rob Overton: Former Chair Racing Rules Committee, International Umpire, National Judge.
As we have returned to the racecourse, we’ve all had to figure out how to conduct protest and redress hearings while keeping everyone safe and out of enclosed spaces. COVID is a fact of life, at least for now, and we need to work around it.
Video conferencing has given us a way to conduct socially-distanced hearings, and these have also proven to be a good way for regatta organizers to get enough judges on location to meet the demands of a big event.
Video conferencing has been around for years. It is efficient, fast and in many cases a preferred way of doing business. Zoom has quickly become the software choice because of cost, dependability, and ease of use. Zoom will probably be the platform used for your next protest hearing.
PROTESTS DURING THE PANDEMIC
It is important to remember that protest committees (PCs) are made up of friendly volunteers who are dedicated to providing fair and impartial hearings. Their presence is indispensable to our sport and like all of us, they are pivoting during the pandemic to deliver their services.
So, what does this mean for you and what can you expect? It turns out that it just got a whole lot easier for you to file a protest and/or defend yourself in a protest hearing. You can join from nearly anywhere, do research quickly, and write and deliver your response right away, even far from the high-tension atmosphere at an event. Hearings can often happen more quickly since the protest committee does not have to be physically at the event.
The US Sailing Racing Rules of Sailing App contains the current rulebook and an expanded menu of features to streamline your overall experience. Make sure you have this or a printed copy of the RRS. Among other indispensable features for Zoom protests is Dave Perry’s commentary on the rules integrated into the digital rulebook. Also built in is the ability to digitally file a protest right from the app. And, of course, you can always use Zoom from your smart phone. Yes, your smart phone just got smarter.
- The Zoom app can be downloaded at no cost at https://zoom.us/download.
- If you have Zoom installed, make sure it is at least version 5.0. You can also access Zoom through your browser, but not all features are supported with this method.
- A Zoom app is also available for smart phones and tablets, but you will probably find a laptop or desktop works best.
SAMPLE EMAIL FROM THE PROTEST COMMITTEE
If you’re involved in a protest or redress hearing, you will probably get an email from the protest committee with details about the hearing, like this:
- The date and time of the hearing
- Information about the PC’s online hearing procedures: what you can expect, what you’re required to do and what you may want to do
- The link to join the Zoom meeting
- A number to call for help if you have any issues.
The PC will provide you with a copy of the protest form prior to the hearing via email and other documents that they might reference such as scoring results, SIs, etc.
Gather any documents you may want to refer to. At a minimum, make sure you have a rulebook! You may also want to check US Sailing’s Appeals Book if you think an appeal or World Sailing case may strengthen your argument.
Parties are also responsible for obtaining any software or other material they require to present a visual representation of the incident.
- The PC will conduct hearings with two to five judges serving as a hearing panel.
- One of the judges will probably manage the technical aspects of the meeting, such as moving participants between the hearing room and the waiting room, turning microphones on and off and facilitating parties sharing their screens. A tech person, not part of the PC, might play this role and may also be available offline to assist with technical issues.
First things first: A Zoom hearing is similar in structure and content to a regular hearing. For a preview, take a look at Appendix M of The Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS), where you’ll find the recommended procedures for a hearing.
It’s very important to prepare thoroughly to present your case in a meaningful way so that the PC understands the facts the way you see them and hopefully comes to the same conclusions that you did. Here’s how it will probably go:
- Log in at least 10 minutes early to allow time to get properly connected. Any witnesses you want to call must do the same.
- The hearing will be conducted in accordance with the procedure described in Appendix M of The Racing Rules of Sailing.
- All parties (protestor and protestee) and witnesses must be present at the start of the hearing.
- Each party or witness must attend the meeting from a unique location that is physically separated from the location of any other participant.
- Except as allowed in the RRS and these guidelines, no party or witness will engage in any verbal or electronic communication regarding the hearing during the hearing.
- The PC chair will briefly introduce the parties, witnesses, judges and the process. Questions regarding hearing procedures may be asked at this time.
- All parties (protestor and protestees, or, for redress, requester for redress and race committee representative if appropriate) will remain in the Zoom conference at all times except for PC deliberation.
- Witnesses will be placed in a virtual “waiting room” at the start of the hearing and will not be able to see or hear the proceedings until called upon to testify. Witnesses will be asked to be patient and be ready to join the meeting when called.
- Parties will be given the opportunity to visually present their arguments, much like using model boats in an in-person hearing.
- Witnesses will be called into the hearing one at a time and asked to testify and answer questions from the parties and judges.
- When it is time for the judges to deliberate, witnesses and parties will be returned to the waiting room where they will not be able to see or hear each other or the judges.
- Once a decision has been reached by the PC, the parties will be invited back into the hearing room to hear the facts found, conclusions reached and the PC’s decision.
- The PC will then close the hearing. There may be a question-and-answer period between the parties and the chair for the hearing. If this is the case, the chair will speak for the Protest Committee.
- Each party is responsible for clearly explaining and displaying, if they so choose, their view of the incident to the PC.
- The PC’s job is to decide what the facts are, draw conclusions and make a decision based on The Racing Rules of Sailing.
- We suggest the following range of options for presenting your case:
- You are welcome to use a diagram and present it in most any way you are comfortable with. The new rules app has a diagram feature so you can attach it to your form and animate the diagram sequence.
- You might want to use a sailboat racing presentation software program or app:
- Boat Scenario and TSS are excellent for you to present your diagram of what happened. Both are available free for download online.
- Caution: each requires practice and familiarity with the commands to present effectively. We don’t advise using these tools unless you are very familiar with them.
- Parties may use their own software provided the diagrams of the incident can be shared with everyone in the hearing.
- You can also use model boats or paper cutouts and a web camera to display the incident to the protest committee.
- Detailed drawings or a white board or other artwork of the incident are acceptable.
- PowerPoint or other presentation software could be used too.
- You should practice in advance with whatever presentation method you plan to use. The easiest way to do that is to hold your own Zoom meeting with a crew member or friend.
- The PC chair or tech moderator will allow you to share your computer screen with everybody in the hearing in order to present diagrams you have drawn or use your camera to show model boats you move around on a table or the floor to illustrate the incident.
- Witnesses will be expected to log in before the hearing starts but will remain, aside from introductions, in the waiting room until they are called to testify. People in the waiting room cannot communicate with others in the waiting room or the main meeting room.
- Witnesses will use the same Zoom link as the parties.
- Participants and witnesses must be in separate locations with separate Zoom access.
- Witnesses will be admitted to the hearing from the “waiting room” when they are needed.
- Parties to the hearing must ensure their witnesses have access to Zoom and can participate fully.
- During the hearing, no parties or witnesses may be coached by any other person. Collaboration or use of outside materials to coach parties or witnesses is prohibited.
- Parties and witnesses are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the RRS and with the guidelines set forth here. Failure to do so may be considered misconduct (see rule 69, Misconduct).
- No hearing may be recorded. Recording a hearing without the participants’ express permission is inappropriate and, in many states, illegal.
- You may be asked to agree to a “Code of Conduct,” which may be similar to this one:
Code of Conduct for Remote Hearings
All participants are expected to behave according to the principles of sportsmanship required by our sport. We thank you in advance for your Corinthian conduct.
In addition, while the hearing is in session:
- A party or witness shall not record, transmit or convey audio or video of the hearing. Individual screen captures of scenario images are permitted for your records only.
- A party or witness must ensure to the best of their ability that they are not being observed or overheard by anyone who may have an interest in the proceedings.
- A party shall not communicate or share information with anyone outside of the hearing, by any means or technology.
- A party shall not communicate or share information with a witness, except when the witness is giving testimony before the Protest Committee.
A party or witness who breaks an element of this Code risks being found in breach of principles of good sportsmanship and ethical behavior (see RRS 69.1(b)).
So, to wrap up, if all this sounds easy enough, that’s good. If you have questions, you should reach out to the PC chairperson for answers. Judges are trained to help and stay impartial. If there is an admin person to handle tech issues and admin for the hearing, feel free to ask him or her for help, since the chair will be busy with running a successful a Zoom protest hearing.