Built By Affiliation

05/14/2017
There was a time, says David Bartee, director, Court Technology Office in Fairfax, Virginia (FFX), when the only technology a courtroom might have had was a computer and a printer. Times have changed drastically, and now courtrooms are models of technological advancement. The issue, says Fred Lederer, director of the Center for Legal and Court Technology (CLCT), was that when the tide started to turn and many courts began adopting more sophisticated technology, there was no easy way to get information on the matter and no centralized place to find it.
 
To address the concern, in 1993 the Courtroom 21 (C21) Project was begun as a joint venture between the College of William and Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) with the mission to "improve the world's legal systems through the appropriate use of technology.” Since then, Courtroom 21 has evolved into CLCT, a repository of professional research regarding the legal applicability for specific technologies. CLCT provides both basic and advanced levels of training for audio-visual technology (A/V) that is specific to the courtroom environment. Their mock courtroom serves as an important “test” environment that is a roadmap for other courts to follow and adapt to the best fitting for their own court.
 
CLCT is involved in judicial and attorney training and education. They provide needs assessments, hold legal technology demonstrations and discussions for jurists, lawyers, law faculty, court administrators, technologists, architects and others from around the world. It is a global center for empirical and legal research on courtroom technology. CLCT has centralized all of this information and, along with NCSC, has sponsored the Court Affiliates Program to share it with members.
As its hub, the Affiliates Program uses the McGlothlin Courtroom, which is managed by CLCT.  McGlothlin is the most technologically advanced educational courtroom in the world.  Affiliates work to minimize redundancy, conserve financial and personnel resources, and “promote compliance with the legal and pragmatic needs of the courts and those they serve.” Using this cooperation, the Court Affiliates acts to determine best practices and disseminate them among members. 
 
“The Affiliate Court relationship,” says Bartee, “provides a forum and networking opportunity for FFX (judges, clerks, IT staffs, etc.) to engage with other courts around the country and the world regarding the specific use and impact of technology in our courtrooms. Affiliates provided reports on new initiatives either in development or recently launched into production.”
 
They offer annual conferences, at first in Williamsburg, and later at affiliate courts. “Then,” says Lederer, “came the Great Recession.” This had a massive impact on budgets and funding. Ten courts in California alone had to cut back and eliminate their membership. Recently, CLCT has undergone major structural changes to address this issue to make the information more available to courts. CLCT studied for more than a year how they could best serve courts. They recognized that in the modern world, the way to do this would be to emphasize communication via the Internet. With a “sizable” donation from Tyler Technologies, the largest software company in the nation solely focused on providing integrated software and technology services to the public sector, courts will be able to exchange experiences and information. After all, “The people who know the most about courts are court people.”
 
The site is not strictly a technology site. It can also involve elements that roughly relate to technology. “We are not only designed for technologists. We will be monitoring the site.” The financial structure will be based on the population of the district. The hope, says Lederer, is to serve about 1,000 courts. A “soft launch” was planned for mid-April, which will include a significant amount of information. All will be able to be done online. Members might have very intricate questions that relate to a specific court, such as traffic or family courts. These can be addressed at CLCT’s Affiliate Courts Program. “Some judges are experts in areas one might not expect.”
 
FFX, for which Bartee is the Court Technology Office, has been affiliated with CLCT for nearly 20 years. Based on information gathered at C21 and other affiliate courts, FFX created their own customized Courtroom Technology Manage-ment System, introducing shared, centralized resources such as a codec farm. “I believe FFX was one of the first five Affiliate Courts,” he notes. C21 gave them a forum to network about technology. When FFX started, few if any courts were using high-end technology, but now all courts do. The Affiliate Program has evolved from what C21 was testing to what Affiliate Courts have implemented. Over the years, says Bartee, FFX has established long-term working relationships with CLCT as well as colleagues around the world.

One of the particularly interesting offerings from CLCT, says Bartee, are the mock trials. He notes that they have a proximity advantage by being only about 145 miles away. They can go down to Williamsburg and see what CLCT has been experimenting with, and then go back to Fairfax and customize it, such as installing and using VTC, document cameras, user interfaces, etc. The affiliate relationship has allowed FFX to use information from CLCT to create their own courtroom prototype and test in a “live” environment.
 
One of the biggest benefits FFX has found is the networking opportunities with other courts, and a venue to get into the finer details of working with certain A/V hardware, software, programming, etc. In the program, courts can share ideas and exchange information. He points out the unique nature of the industry. No two courts are alike. “What works for FFX, may not be what works for another court and vice-versa.”
 
He furthers, “The annual conference provides the opportunity to meet and interface directly with our court colleagues, and the challenges technology introduces to the adjudication process. The benefit of being able to network with other courts is a tremendous opportunity they provide.” At the conferences, affiliates can ask each other questions and “get into the intimate details.” They discuss hardware, software, and integration. There are half a dozen ways to do something, and if a court is having a very specific problem, it is helpful to discuss it with other courts that may have a solution.
 
The Court Affiliates Program is open to all courts that either have or are planning to incorporate technology into their courtrooms. Members receive discounts on training and conferences, such as CLCT’s court technologist A/V training courses and construction conferences. Not only can members learn about the technology involved, but the legal concerns as well, such as if the evidence is a distorted video or if the witness is testifying remotely. Everything has to be authenticated, and the court has to prove who the person is. If it is not done correctly, the image might be distorted. Bartee notes, “Knowing what will not work is just as important as knowing what will.”
 
CLCT is a repository. “In a way, we’ve all been developing a blueprint we can all work from.” Among the aspects Bartee likes are the specifics. NCSC is a reliable and valuable source, but they often focus on somewhat broader topics, while CLCT can focus on the details.
Among the primary trends courts are undergoing is the transition from analog to digital, which Bartee notes, is “not a plug and play solution.” There are so many manufacturers that have to be vetted. “The best way to vet them out is through networking and sharing war stories.” For example, when a court in Scranton, Pa., was rolling out for the first time, they did not know if they should go for centralized or for decentralized.
Fairfax is a significantly larger system, and after visiting Fairfax, the Scranton court realized that they did not need to be as centralized as FFX. Scranton got two digital courts up and running, and they are happy with them. Fairfax, though, has 22 courts. Four recently launched as digital versions, and they are in the process of upgrading the other 18. “Whether you are large or small, we’re all trying to do the same thing,” notes Bartee.
There are considerations in these types of upgrades. Among them are cost and time. For one, when a court decides to go digital, there is a financial commitment involved, and states are struggling fiscally. If a digital router is used, it must all then be digital. It also takes about three months to upgrade a court, and only so many courtrooms can be upgraded at once because they are in use every day.
There are many benefits, though. The digital version allows for mobile devices to be used, and the attorneys can share something from a laptop or mobile device. Says Bartee, “We think we have this thing figured out.” They have since eliminated CDs and DVDs players. Users are now encouraged to bring their own devices.

Another advantage of the Fairfax upgrades are the user features. The attorneys have a small control panel, and that panel is integrated into a touchpad. With that, he or she can annotate. The judge’s control panel is easy to understand and very user friendly. Bartee notes that the setup had minor initial issues—“buggy things”—such as live connectivity, and there is a small learning curve, but FFX offers regular training to attorneys about the technology as well as a chance to test the devices before the trial starts.

The new, updated site contains topics including ethics, social media in the courtroom and hearing room, case management, e-filing, courthouse design, courthouse technology infrastructure, courtroom design, millwork and furniture, jury management technology, courtroom technology, training, e-discovery, criminal data seizures, data security, privacy and electronically accessible court information, and evidence as it pertains to technology. There is also information regarding training opportunities, a forum, and a blog.

To learn more about the Court Affiliates Program, e-mail clct@wm.edu or call 757.221.7730.  CT

 

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