Lawrence County court personnel started using technology last week that allows any member of a criminal or civil case to participate in the proceedings from any location, including our jail.

An $82,314 grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs paid for a CourtCall system with video and audio hardware for our three courtrooms and jail, as well as additional laptops and technology upgrades in the Courthouse.

Covid introduced the need for remote appearances and Zoom to our court system. Our existing computer equipment wasn’t reliable enough, and the process of getting (and keeping) all parties on a Zoom call was problematic.

The opportunity to improve came with an award from a CESF (Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding) Video Arraignment grant program. Its purpose was to reduce the number of people who personally appear in court and therefore eliminate opportunities to spread the virus.

The application submitted by my office included a $65,000 system from CourtCall, a Torrence, California company that developed the technology for attorneys in 1996 so they could appear for routine matters from their homes, offices, or other locations. Now, CourtCall systems are designed to serve all parties involved in every type of case.

CourtCall personnel from Torrence and Denver, Colorado traveled here first to plan the system layout, then to install and train those who are using it.  Hardware includes microphones; computers for judges; two 65” televisions in the largest courtroom so spectators can see those appearing remotely; and courtroom cameras with multi-focus lenses to capture the judge and/or the entire room.

Two “rugged” kiosks are installed in small, private rooms in the jail and allow inmates to interact with the judge and anyone else involved in their case. Inmates can actually sign documents using their finger on the kiosk screen. Judges, attorneys, and other parties can use an electronic signature program and eliminate the need for paper copies.

Courtroom Security Director Lt. Anthony Washburn says only 12 of almost 60 inmates had to physically appear during two days of routine court proceedings last week. More inmates will make remote appearances as court personnel become more familiar with the program.

The system allows up to 20 people to appear onscreen simultaneously. With a link delivered via email, anyone anywhere can participate with their own laptop, desktop, cell phone, or tablet. If two or more participants need to speak privately, they can “subconference” on another screen where others can’t see or hear them, then return to the group.

CourtCall offers great opportunities to save time and money in our court system, which ultimately benefits taxpayers. I want to thank everyone involved in the adoption of this system, particularly Lt. Washburn and IT Director Steve Walker.

Photo:

Two “rugged” CourtCall kiosks were installed in the Lawrence County jail, part of a grant-funded system that allows people to participate in legal proceedings from remote locations. Inmates can sign court documents on the screen with their finger.