During the most recent King County Bar-Bench Conference, we had an opportunity to discuss some of the new uses of technology impacting the bar. One of the topics was the use of Skype or other technology for the presentation of evidence from witnesses who are not physically present in the courtroom.
Increasingly, we see counsel trying cases to juries by presenting a series of perpetuation depositions in lieu of live witnesses. Especially for plaintiffs’ counsel (who have to put their witnesses on first), any delay in starting a trial can render a very expensive expert witness unavailable. Judges understand why counsel are relying so heavily on presenting videos of depositions. But we have to tell you, depositions are deadly boring!
Never fear: There are alternatives.
In 2012, the King County Council budget included a proviso instructing the Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget to work with appropriate stakeholders to explore how the County could increase the use of remote video technology to reduce costs and improve service in the criminal justice system. One of the projects identified and implemented was what has been called Courtroom 21 or the e-courtroom.
Under the skillful leadership of Krista Camenzind, then of the Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget, and with the support of Councilmember Kathy Lambert, we were able to set up two e-courtrooms — one in the downtown courthouse and one at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. These courtrooms are available either for whole trials or for presentation of individual witness testimony.
They contain projectors and large screens, ELMOs, white boards and USB plugs so that counsel can plug their computers in and project directly from the computer. The judge has the ability to control whether the image is projected to everyone or just to the monitors viewed by the court, counsel and the witness.
Of course, whether a witness may testify from another site will depend on the circumstances of each case and a judge’s decision after weighing relevant authority and argument of counsel. If a witness testifies remotely, the technology in these courtrooms enables the witness to see the same page of an exhibit or a deposition that counsel is using in her examination, provided all of those documents are sent to the witness electronically ahead of time. One key advantage of remote testimony over perpetuation depositions is that the witness can answer jury questions.
To learn more about the e-courtrooms, we recommend review of two sources. A written “functional Overview” of the workings of the e-courtrooms can be found at http://schome/IT/Helpdesk%20FAQs/eCourt
search=e%2Dcourtroom. The monitors and PCs are referred to as “prosecution” and “defense” since this project was initially part of a criminal justice initiative. However, many civil lawyers have used the courtroom as well. A brief video description of the courtroom can be seen at http://king.granicus.com/Media
Demand for the e-courtrooms is high, so it is important to notify your trial judge as early as possible if you think this type of courtroom would be best for your case, or for part of your case. We can move a trial to the courtroom for a day if there is a witness who needs to testify remotely.
Even if the e-courtroom is busy already (or if all that technology gives you hives), we have yet another alternative. We have several media carts in the downtown courthouse and the MRJC. These carts have a large monitor and can play a variety of media formats. When we say a large monitor, we mean a monitor suitable for watching a Seahawks game. They are very high quality.
If video is not going to work in your situation, please know that every courtroom now is equipped with a speakerphone with a dedicated telephone number which is part of our VOIP phone system. These speakerphones provide much higher fidelity than any phones we have had in the past.
As with much of trial preparation, stay in close touch with the bailiff about your desire to use the e-courtroom, one of the media carts or what many of us call the Bat Phone. And if you intend to bring in your own equipment or use a commercial vendor, always check with the bailiff to find out when you may bring the equipment in and have it set up. Remember that there are very few outlets and you will need extension cords. And don’t forget painter’s tape. We do not allow any other tape to be used on the floor.
Video testimony, PowerPoints and physical presentation of evidence are quite effective when done well. Make sure you know how to use the technology well or else bring a teenager. However, when it is not done well, it serves as a distraction for counsel, the judge and the jury. You would rather that the jury think your case is boring than that you are incompetent.
These technologies are, though, the future of litigation and it is well worth learning how to use them skillfully.
While I would like to take full credit for this column, in reality I relied on one of the Court’s “Early Adopters,” Judge Palmer Robinson, for all technical information. Judge Robinson was a driving force behind the development of the e-courtrooms, as well as the adoption and expansion of e-filing and e-orders. She has led the way into the 21st Century.
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