December 7, 2023

It was a civil forfeiture hearing like any other hearing except for the lawyer cat.

Courts usually don’t let cats argue over cases. But here was Rod Ponton, a district attorney in Presidio County, Texas, who couldn’t figure out how to turn off the cat filter on his Zoom call during a hearing held Tuesday in the 394th Texas Judicial District.

The result was a video that was instantly hailed as an instant online classic, in the rare company of classics like Knife Kid and BBC Dad. It offered a syringe of harmless ease when many people were going through a difficult time – and Mr. Ponton took it in a good mood.

“If I can make the country laugh for a moment in these difficult times, I’ll let them do it at my expense,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday afternoon.

Although the joint recording was less than a minute long, their comedy unfolded second by second as if it had been meticulously written.

“Mr. Ponton, I think you have activated a filter in the video settings.” Judge Roy Ferguson, who heads the case, tells Mr. Ponton first in the video.

“Augggh,” replies an angry Mr. Ponton as his kitten face looks lonely in the corner of the screen and his eyes seem full of horror, shame and sadness. “Can you hear me, judge?” he asks, although the tone has never been an issue.

H. Gibbs Bauer, another attorney, puts on his glasses and leans forward to better examine the miracle on his screen. He adjusts his tie as if he were subconsciously aware of his supporting role, but keeps a straight face.

As does a stone-faced man in another box who has been identified as Jerry L. Phillips and who is apparently unimpressed by the cat.

Mr. Ponton continues.

“I don’t know how to remove it,” he said. “I have my assistant here and she’s trying.”

To get the hearing going, he offers, “I’m ready to move on.”

Then he makes it very clear: “I’m live here. I am not a cat. “

This causes Mr. Phillips to look up and eventually the exchange pulls a smile and a laugh from him as Judge Ferguson replies, “I can see that.”

In the interview, Mr. Ponton, who represented the state of Texas on the case, said that he was using his secretary’s computer and that she was “ashamed” of the mistake.

He’s not on Twitter and didn’t know he had become an international phenomenon until he received calls from reporters barely more than an hour after the hearing ended, he said. The video was on the court’s YouTube page and Judge Ferguson himself tweeted a link.

All in all, it took the episode less than a minute for him to figure out how to turn the filter off, and they returned as usual.

“My older and less humorous face showed up and we continued the hearing,” he said.