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AV Central to 21st Century Justice

America’s courtrooms now rely on connected AV devices to do their jobs

AV has become an integral part of the the U.S. judicial system.

The face of 21st century U.S. justice is very much the face of connected AV technology. Modern courtrooms feature HD monitors—many doubling as touchscreen control panels—for judges, juries and opposing counsels. These screens display multimedia evidence, be it surveillance photos and video, reconstructed crime scene animations, or live testimony from witnesses in other locations, eliminating the requirement, expense, and escape risks associated with bringing inmates to court.

Add the ability to transmit and record the court’s proceedings using in-room cameras and microphones and for central locations to provide translation services to courtrooms, and AV has become integral to the U.S. judicial system.

“The courtroom has always been a place for communications,” said Martin E. Gruen, director of Audio Video Technology at the William & Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Va. “Initially, this was purely verbal communications and hand-drawn charts; then blown-up projected photos were added when the technology became available. From here, audio and video came in; including remote live hookups to other locations. This was followed by computers and all the capability that the Web can support.”


In 1993, the William & Mary School of Law teamed up with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to launch the “Courtroom 21” project with the mission “to improve the world’s legal systems through the appropriate use of technology.” Since then, the Courtroom 21 project has evolved into the Center for Legal and Court Technology (CLTC).

Gruen designed the initial Courtroom 21 pilot project, which was built in McGlothlin Courtroom at William & Mary. “It was a heady challenge, considering that the project was trying to push the boundaries of legal AV using early 1990’s technology,” he said.

Today, the McGlothlin Courtroom continues to be a working classroom and legal equipment laboratory; following a complete renovation in 2009.

In its current form, the McGlothlin Courtroom’s AV system is controlled by a touchscreen panel mounted on the courtroom’s podium. In Classroom Mode, the touchscreen shows a map of the courtroom’s various AV stations; namely the bench, clerk station, court reporter station, counsel stations, jury stations, podium, and witness station. All of the stations have LCD monitors connected to the courtroom multimedia system; those with selectable input sources can be controlled from the podium. The podium touchscreen has a built-in touchscreen drawing tool that allows the presenter to highlight text or write (telestrate) on the screen. This can be seen on LCD screens at various stations and monitors mounted in the room.

To support presentations, the McGlothlin Courtroom allows personal laptops to be plugged into the podium and counsel stations. A DVD player is also located at the podium for ease of playout; plus there are document cameras at the podium, bench, and witness station.

The courtroom’s live closed-circuit TV cameras can be viewed and switched from the podium. The operator can also enable or disable the room’s microphones, and control the lights. Everything shot in the room can be recorded locally, and/or streamed via the Web.

“When you factor in incoming feeds from remote locations, and the use of off-site translators by some actual U.S. courtrooms, the production capabilities are akin to a standard broadcast TV station,” said Gruen.


Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court covers seven physical court facilities in Orange and Osceola counties. “We have 65 judges and 350 employees serving an area of over 2,000 square miles, making it one of the largest circuits in Florida,” said Matt Benefiel, the court’s trial court administrator. “Courtroom AV is central to us fulfilling our mission effectively and judiciously.”

The face of 21st century U.S. justice is very much the face of connected AV technology, with modern courtrooms featuring HD monitors that double as touchscreen control panels for judges, juries and opposing counsels.

The Ninth’s courtroom AV systems center around Cisco’s TelePresence videoconferencing systems, using models from the SX20 up to the SX80 depending on the court location, specific room usage/layout, and installation date. The Cisco system includes cameras, microphones, and codecs. The courtrooms also use Extron wireless connections to connect devices and 65–75-inch Samsung LCD displays.

The Ninth Circuit is currently upgrading from its 12-year-old Biamp AudioFLEX mixers to Biamp’s new Tesira platform. “This [new] platform has truly achieved a unified audio approach, which is essential in large complex systems,” said Jamy Crum, the Ninth’s audio/visual department’s senior engineer.

In recent years, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court has seen a growing need to provide non-English translation services—mainly Spanish with some Haitian-Creole—to defendants and witnesses, while also coping with tight budgets. With courtroom AV the Ninth can centralize its translators into one central location; providing services to all seven court facilities using the Cisco and Biamp systems.

“Before we had this system, it could take a translator hours to drive to one of our rural locations to provide 15 minutes’ worth of translation,” said Benefiel. “Using videoconferencing and two-way audio, we can eliminate this driving time; vastly increasing the productivity and reach of our translators while actually making their lives easier, because now they can go to work in the same location close to home every day.”

The Ninth is also using centralized court reporters serving all courtrooms remotely; again providing equivalent or better-than-before service at much lower costs thanks to courtroom AV.

Fairfax County, Va. is similarly committed to courtroom AV. The county’s Court Technology Office (CrTO) supports three Fairfax courts and oversees 40 courtrooms, including 18 high-tech courtrooms integrated with a customized analog/digital Courtroom Technology Management System (CTMS).

The function of the CTMS is “to improve citizens’ access to the courts, facilitate trials and hearings in the most effective and efficient means possible, allow for all three courts to share common resources, and provide for flexibility and adaptability to incorporate future changes in technology and court proceedings,” said CrTO Director David Bartee. “The custom-built CTMS allows all high-tech courtrooms to share a common infrastructure through a centralized master control room [MCR]. The distributed environment provides consistency, standardization, and scalability.”

Each CTMS courtroom supports electronic evidence sources including CD/DVD, document camera, enhanced x-ray, computer video with annotation and printing capabilities. Multiple flat-screen displays allow the judge, jury and gallery to view unobstructed presentations of the evidence. “The courtrooms contain touchscreen panels for the judge and clerk to manage multiple microphones and video displays located at the judges’ bench, clerks’ station, court recorder station, attorney tables, podium, jury box and spectator gallery,” said Bartee. “Users are provided a control panel at the podium to select an evidence source for preview by the judge.”

Audio and video from all CTMS courtrooms is distributed to and from the courtroom via the master control room using an Evertz EQX 288×288 optical router. Videoconferencing for the three courts and the Adult Detention Center is handled by six Tandberg 3000 MXP Codecs shared by all CTMS courtrooms. “Routing, distribution and system control is currently supported by a Crestron RGBHV16X16 router, Crestron Pro2 and Crestron TPSGATPI,” said Bartee. “Transport and central routing relies on Evertz 7707/7708 fiber cards to connect to the EQX in the MCR.” Courtroom audio is handled by two Biamp AudiaFlex digital signal processors for routing and mixing, while annotation capability is provided by either a Boeckeler PVI-X90 or CPN-5000 using ELO 1715 touch panels. CTMS courtrooms are also outfitted with a Sennheiser two-channel infrared audio system to provide assistive listening and interpreting support.

At press time, Fairfax County’s CrTO was working on “CTMS 2,” a digital version of the existing CTMS system that will eventually be installed in all 40 county courtrooms. “The new digital design is necessary to replace obsolete analog hardware and will include newer, digital components from multiple manufacturers and sources,” Bartee said. “The new CTMS 2 digital design will be completed by the end of 2015.”