Videoconferencing gets its day in court

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City recently became the first courthouse in the 2nd Judicial Circuit to install a buildingwide videoconferencing capability that will save judges, lawyers and litigants time and money by reducing the need for traveling to court.

"In terms of the courts being able to administer justice, [videoconferencing] extends that past the physical boundaries to allow individuals to have access to court from remote locations without having to travel," said Joel Turner, assistant circuit executive for information technology for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "Because we are the Court of Appeals and serve a large area, it can be difficult at times for an attorney and litigant to come to Manhattan to deal with the issues."

Courthouse employees will use videoconferencing to communicate between far-flung offices, while judges will use the systems to conduct trials, Turner said. The technology also will enable lawyers to present oral arguments from remote locations, he said.

An additional eight federal courthouses in the 2nd Judicial Circuit will upgrade to buildingwide videoconferencing capability over the next 12 to 24 months at a cost of about $700,000. This capability will help expand public access to the courts and change the way the public interacts with the courts. Currently, the courthouses with videoconferencing capability have systems that are limited to a particular room.

Three sites in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which consists of federal courts in New York, Vermont and Connecticut, have used videoconferencing technology over the past 18 months on a pilot basis. "Over 200 lawyers have used videoconferencing so far to present oral arguments to a panel of three appellate judges," said George Lange III, the circuit executive for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Lange added that the solicitor general of the state of New York requires her appellate lawyers in Albany to argue via videoconferencing, saving a considerable amount of money on travel to New York City.

The Manhattan courthouse is using the VidPhone System from Objective Communications Inc. to bring videoconferencing to any room that has a phone jack. The system delivers uncompressed TV-quality video and audio to the desktop or a room over standard telephone wiring. The system includes a VidPhone switch, which acts as a video-enabling extension of a telephone switch, and a VidPhone Modem, which plugs into a phone jack and turns a PC into a videoconferencing station. Unisys Corp. is responsible for support and installation of the products.

Ty Glasgow, director of business development at Objective Communications, said the systems will enable the court "to move more cases through at the lowest cost to speed up the whole process. The VidPhone brings videoconferencing out of the conference room."

Glasgow said the systems also will benefit courthouse personnel who are not directly involved in litigation. "The [Manhattan] courthouse consists of two large, multistory buildings with a high density of users at each site," he said. "They need to communicate among themselves and across the wide area."

While the demand for videoconferencing has not taken off as expected in the federal government, that is beginning to change, particularly in the criminal justice area, said consultant Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates.

"The challenge is the human side," Suss said. "People still like face-to-face meetings. [But] I think it is ripe for becoming a more important service."

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