Normally, a civil forfeiture case hearing in Texas’ 394th Judicial District Court would not be a noteworthy news event. But a dismayed lawyer trapped in the body of a virtual cat trying to work Zoom? Now, that is newsworthy. Rod Ponton, a county attorney in Presidio County, TX, was prepared to make a statement during a hearing on Tuesday when he realized that he was unable to turn off a big-eyed cat filter on Zoom. “Mr. Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings,” said presiding Judge Roy Ferguson. “Augggh,” responded an exasperated Ponton, perfectly captured in kitten form looking at the corner of the screen with concern. “Can you hear me, Judge?” the internet’s new favourite cat lawyer asks. Yes. Yes, cat lawyer, we can hear you.
Meanwhile, H. Gibbs Bauer, a human lawyer on the call, leans forward to get a better look at his temporarily feline colleague. Somehow, miraculously, he keeps a straight face. Another human on the call, Jerry L. Phillips, also managed to gaze at the furry legal practitioner unfazed.
“I don’t know how to remove it,” said Ponton, the cat filter perfectly lip-syncing. “I’ve got my assistant here and she’s trying to.” According to The New York Times, Ponton was using his secretary’s computer and she was “mortified” by the mix up.
“I’m prepared to go forward with it,” said Ponton, trying not to lose time during the hearing before crucially, and iconically, clarifying: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.” And as if scripted perfectly in a writer’s room of seasoned comedians, Judge Ferguson responds: “I can see that.”
But wait! It gets better. Apparently, Ponton had no idea he’d become a viral sensation until about an hour after the hearing ended when reporters started calling. Then, when the video went up on the court’s YouTube page, the Judge himself tweeted out the link.
Practically instantly, the internet rejoiced, celebrating the perfect execution of the newly-dubbed Cat Lawyer, joining the rarefied ranks of videos like Knife Kid and BBC Dad. It was the video we didn’t know we needed as things like impeachment trials, a pandemic, and debates over stimulus checks make up the top news.
“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,” Ponton told the New York Times. And chuckle the internet did. Mostly, people wanted to know where they could find the cat filter for their next Zoom call. Others fantasized about an alternate reality, or a movie, with an actual cat lawyer.
I want someone to make a movie in which a lawyer is transformed into a cat and uses Zoom to continue working, pretending that it's a filter he just doesn't know how to remove.— Naomi Kritzer (@NaomiKritzer) February 9, 2021
Although the filter confusion took little more than a minute to sort out, the instantly classic meme that resulted from it will live rent free in our minds forever.