Experts convene during final commissioning of the courtroom.
The ways of justice and judicial systems in the United States and in most of the world are deeply rooted in history and tradition. From black robes and gavels to oaths and impassioned oration, the courts are an institution strong on the preservation of custom and convention. Indeed, some of the world’s most revered and cherished courtrooms boast histories and architecture dating back generations, if not centuries, often with décor and acoustics to match.
But within these hallowed walls, a technological seismic shift is taking place, as new technologies in court reporting, evidence presentation, and sound and video reinforcement collide with advances in digital recording, streaming media, networked A/V, and signal processing. As with most technological revolutions, this one is developing at an ever-accelerating rate, with a marked effect on judicial institutions worldwide.
At the vanguard of this movement, a handful of forward-thinking individuals have been working to create the next generation in courtrooms. Integrating the latest innovations in fiber-optic networks, streaming media, sound and video reinforcement, and recording, the resulting environments have exceeded the goals of merely streamlining and modernizing. This is technology that is having a major, positive impact on courtroom performance, presentation, and upon the process itself.
Remote court reporting is coordinated from a central location in the building”s basement.
COURTROOM 21: TEST RUN
The William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia, hosts what is arguably the world’s most technologically advanced courtroom. This “moot court” hosts only mock trials, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the world’s most visited courtrooms. First opened in 1993, Courtroom 21 was created as an experimental project to determine how technology can influence and improve the legal process.
“Courtroom 21 was designed primarily as a staging ground for new technologies,” says Martin Gruen, president and founder of Applied Legal Technologies. Gruen, an industry authority on courtroom technology, was a driving force behind the original design of Courtroom 21 and continues to consult with the school on a regular basis.
“Technology has completely revolutionized the way courtrooms function,” Gruen says. “Charts have been usurped by computers. The mission of Courtroom 21 is to try out new products and technologies in a controlled environment. If something doesn’t work here, we’ve got a few disappointed students, but we’re not messing with the justice system. This is the place we can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.”
Aside from the obvious functionality issues, these mock trials also help to identify some of the legal and personal ramifications of using the technology. “One thing we discovered with remote testimony: if you put a witness up on a ten-foot screen, you get a reaction out of a jury, because that person is larger than life, whereas taking that same person and putting them on a 50-inch plasma screen in the witness area creates a life-size video image, in a place where the witness would normally be,” Gruen says. “In a series of experiments — same witness, same testimony, different jurors, different size and location of the image — we found that the size and placement of the image made a tremendous difference, while the fact that it was remote, and not live, made virtually none.”
Displays are placed for upper and lower seating.
THE REAL WORLD
If Courtroom 21 is the trial run, Courtroom 23 is for keeps. The Roger A. Barker Courtroom, located on the 23
floor of the new Orange County Courthouse in downtown Orlando, Florida, is the centerpiece of one of the more highly evolved and interconnected court systems in commission. Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court was among a handful to embrace these new technologies early on, inspired by a tour of Courtroom 21 in 1997. “We were just moving into the new Orange County Courthouse,” says John Byram, the court’s chief audiovisual engineer, “and the judges all felt strongly about implementing many of the technologies they’d seen used in Courtroom 21.”
Wired for audio and video, the courtroom has seven Ikegami 400WS video cameras, multiple plasma and flat-screen monitors, voice-activated video teleconferencing, and Webcasting capabilities. Boasting an interactive electronic evidence presentation system, real-time digital court reporting, and online legal research, it’s one of the most advanced courtrooms in operation.
GET YOUR FIBER
This interconnectivity is hardly exclusive to a single courtroom. The main court facility comprises a three-building complex downtown, all linked through fiber and secure ATM network. Also tied into the infrastructure is the Juvenile Courthouse six miles away, the Orange County Jailhouse seven miles in another direction, as well as the Osceola County Courthouse, hosting another 15 courtrooms. There are plans to integrate three more remote local courthouses included in the Ninth Circuit.
View of the courtroom from the judge”s bench.
“We have a strong philosophy of total utilization of all our resources,” says Byram. “So while Courtroom 23 offers the ultimate in technical resources, all the rooms have been designed to have some level of technology and connectivity for evidence presentation, remote testimony, and other uses.”The network is connected through fiber-optic backbone with Pesa routers, making the system resources available throughout the network. “As technologies continue to evolve, bandwidth becomes more of an issue,” Byram says. “Fiber allows us to multiplex more signals in less space. You get more channels, more bandwidth, and no RF interference. It’s particularly good with retrofits in older buildings and ceremonial courtrooms, where the conduit space is typically pretty limited. Fiber also offers a number of security advantages, and unlike copper it’s not susceptible to RF interference.”Gruen agrees. “Generally, we’ve been recommending fiber over copper,” he says. “The cost to pull 12 strands of fiber is virtually the same or less than pulling an equal capacity of copper, with a vast reduction in size. Long-term it holds a lot more benefit; once the fiber is in place, you’re not faced with pulling out Cat-5 to make room for Cat-6. You’re just changing two boxes on either end of that strand of fiber.”
The fiber links up with an ISDN line outside the building, linking the Ninth with the world and opening a wealth of possibilities. Remote testimony has been regularly employed in the court, particularly involving expert witnesses and out-of-state police. “It’s had a remarkable effect on the judicial system,” says Byram. “It speeds up the process, reduces scheduling delays, and saves time and money.”Another immediate financial benefit of networking was seen with the court’s arraignment process. With the county’s schedule of arraigning prisoners seven days per week, inmates were frequently shuttled to hearings in other locations, particularly on weekends. “Now the presiding judge can go to a central court to arraign and take initial appearances from all locations in Orlando and Osceola counties,” says Byram. “The court’s estimated savings using networked arraignments is around a quarter million dollars per year in transportation and security costs alone.”It’s also served other court-related communications agendas. “We had one situation where we set up remote communication with an attorney’s offices in another state for a trial,” says Byram. “They had people at the firm researching the questions and instant-messaging back the answers in real time.”
Courtroom 23’s architectural design presents several sound reinforcement challenges. It’s a two-story-high room with a balcony for observation and seats more than 300 people. “It’s built like a church cathedral,” says Byram, “and it’s always had issues with audio.”The jurors have speakers built in to the railings, and the judge has a speaker built into his Crestron touch screen. For the main room, SoundTube 360 speaker systems have been suspended by aircraft cable to bring the sound down into the room. Smaller versions of the SoundTubes are set up over the mezzanine.The courtroom has several Sennheiser Evolution 300 RF mics, allowing attorneys full mobility. In the other courtrooms, Sennheiser condenser mics are suspended choir style. “The hanging condensers solve a number of problems,” says Byram. “It makes the whole sound system more transparent to the courtroom and gives everyone the freedom to move.”
One of the challenges in designing audio for the courtroom is that the processing needs of sound reinforcement don’t necessarily coincide with those of court reporting or remote testimony. The necessity of what amounts to multiple mixes is addressed through a Biamp AudiaFlex processor with 14 inputs and 12 outputs.“In the courtroom, we use a fair amount of compression,” Byram says. “Witnesses are rarely trained in microphone technique, and we use the Audia’s leveler to compensate for people who move around a lot. With all the open mics we have up, we also use the antifeedback function quite a bit.”The Biamp unit is also programmed for a discrete mixer function dedicated to the court reporters. “Those feeds don’t appear in the house,” says Byram. “They go directly to the court reporter, monitoring the FTR Gold, a courtroom digital-audio system from the Australia-based firm For the Record. The reporters can access a password-protected level of control to change individual mic levels themselves. Giving this control directly to the reporters has dramatically reduced our service calls, since the majority of those calls were requests from reporters to adjust levels. More to the point, the engineering staff are able to make those adjustments remotely, without interrupting the court proceedings.”Gruen is also an advocate of digital signal processing (DSP). “Typically, we’re looking at designing an audio system that will allow everyone to hear and will work with videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and other forms of distribution,” he says. “We need gated mics for the sound reinforcement system, but the mics need to always be on for the recording system. Audia is what we spec most of the time because it’s a full-featured processor, not just a mic mixer. Whatever the clients’ needs — gates, routing, multiple sources — I can program it all by drawing it in the software. Also, most court districts don’t have just one courtroom or even one building; they’re usually scattered in multiple locations, with one IT department to deal with it all. We can just hang the Audia on a network and make remote adjustments. It’s transparent to the proceedings, and it’s faster.”
The Ninth Circuit Court’s rooms are each set up with panels, feeding a Pesa Tiger router in a central media room. One pool camera is dictated per courtroom, transferring composite video to fiber feed. “We take the feed from the courtrooms to our Pesa router,” says Byram. “From there it can be sent out over the Internet. The media can switch between a total of eight feeds. We also have a media feed in the parking lot for connection to live eye and satellite trucks. Any truck can plug in and get a feed from any room on the network. So the local media doesn’t have to travel 32 miles to Osceola — they can simply plug in locally.“It cuts down on the infrastructure cabling in the courtroom and generally makes it less of a zoo,” Byram continues. “It’s a lot easier to control one camera person than six. And local radio stations rarely send reporters anymore; they just plug in to the Internet feed.”Ultimate control of what the media sees is placed in the hands of the presiding judge. In Courtroom 23, Crestron ISIS 6000 touch screens on the judge’s and clerk’s benches are programmed to provide access to the Audia DSP functions. In all the other rooms, Biamp Volume/Select 8 remote controls perform the same function. “We’ve given the judge control of volume levels in the room, but his adjustments don’t affect the recordings,” Byram says. The judge has additional options, as well — for example, the ability to mute the outside media feed or introduce pink noise into the system for a private sidebar. Because the system is full duplex, playback in the courtroom on demand is supported, too.“Using the Audias has allowed us to give the judge control in his courtroom,” says Byram. “At the same time, it gives us the ability to independently interface with the court reporter. And having a network-controllable mixer is invaluable, since it allows us to make adjustments anywhere on the system without impacting the proceedings.”
One very visible networked component is the evidence presentation system. A document or an object can be electronically scanned and displayed on monitors throughout the court, including a Monovision 36-inch XGA monitor and flat-screen monitors mounted on the jury rails. An attorney or a witness can electronically annotate items on his or her screens. The judge controls volume, viewing access, and other functions through his or her own Crestron touch screen.“A document can be read by everyone at the same time,” says Gruen. “In real terms, the impact of this has been a reduction of a third to half in the average trial time. When you consider the typical costs of running a court, that’s a significant savings.”In some cases, the trials’ outcomes are directly influenced by the availability of the technology. “Imaged evidence allows the opponent to examine it in advance of trial,” says Gruen. “In some cases, that’s enough to convince one side to settle out of court.”
The role of the court reporter has also been affected by the advancing technology. Court reporting, at least in civil and non-criminal cases, is handled remotely. “We send five tracks of audio from each courtroom to a central location,” says Byram. Four tracks are recorded and archived to CD via FTR Gold. An Eventide VR204 broadcast recorder captures the fifth track as backup.Because so much of the process is automated, it’s now possible for a single court reporter to monitor four courtrooms simultaneously via a central facility. The system is designed to record four channels of audio, along with bar-coded information such as case numbers and annotation. It also allows the court reporter to make notes tied in to a time-code stamp. All data is recorded into a single database, and audio is regularly backed to CD-ROM and made available to the attorneys.
One of the basic tenets of life on the bleeding edge is the need to keep moving or grow stagnant. Byram and his staff are always learning by observing, gaining feedback from each new trial. “Johnnie Cochran was in recently,” he says, “and we spent some time talking about technology. He had some great suggestions, several of which — such as voice-activated camera switching and a wireless touch screen — we’ve since implemented.”The Ninth Circuit is fortunate in having the expertise available to implement and maintain the plan. “Much of our staff come from a broadcast engineering background,” says Byram. “Everything has been designed and installed internally, with no outside contractors. We were able to cut costs on the installation, but more importantly, our response time to problems is much quicker. We built the system, so we know its intricacies.” As Byram points out, experienced support staff becomes increasingly critical as the complexity of systems evolves. “We tell people, if they’re willing to invest in the technology, they need to be willing to invest in the people to support it,” he says.Although it’s important for courts to update their technology, proper planning is essential. “They need to look to people with actual courtroom experience, not just audio experts,” Byram says. “It’s important to do what’s right for the court system.”Daniel Kellerhas no outstanding parking tickets.
www.eventide.comFor the Record
www.albatron.com.twPesa Switching Systems
THE TIES THAT BIND
INSIDE THE ROOM
AND OUTSIDE THE ROOM
FEEDING THE MEDIA
PRESENTING THE EVIDENCE
REPORTING FROM ELSEWHERE
EVOLUTION IS CONSTANT
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