• Williamsburg, VA-Begun in 1993, the Courtroom 21 Project is an ongoing demonstration of what benefits technology can provide to the legal system. Located in the William & Mary Law School, Courtroom 21 is known as "the world's most technologically advanced courtroom," with more than $4 million worth of hardware on loan from various companies. It is used by the school in part to instruct students, and has gained an international reputation through specially designed trials and experimentation that test how new technologies can be used in various real-world courtroom circumstances.

The Courtroom 21 Project at the William & Mary Law School was supplied with several touchpanel controllers from Crestron, dramatically increasing the experimental court's level of control and annotation abilities.
The project began humbly, with real-time transcription for court reporters, a video recording system to make a court record, and then a short time later it entered the world of videoconferencing. Martin Gruen, a former installer and now Courtroom 21's deputy director for technology, has been with the project since its conception and has witnessed the development. "Those were the three beginning revolutionary steps, then it grew into a world of other possibilities," he explained. Once evidence presentation began through document cameras, it then moved to VCRs, and later on DVDs. "It's been on a much similar track as what's been done in education and in presentation."

"As an attorney, you're communicating to a judge and jury. Historically that's been done verbally or maybe with charts," Gruen continued. "With the technology of screens and monitors and such, the attorney can convey that much more easily."

With that ease of communication through technology also comes a dramatic reduction in trial time. Considering the amount of time lost when presenting documents, having screens available to the judge, jury, attorneys, and witnesses, a document can be brought up simply and quickly without the wasted time normally needed to pass around a hard copy.

"It's revolutionizing the entire country," he said. "Presentation is becoming very much the standard."

In the continuing effort to expand their capabilities, Courtroom 21 recently underwent an upgrade. Because technology is in constant development, manufacturers may sign on with the project as participating companies, and part of their continual involvement is to provide upgrades of their products as they become available.

When Crestron approached Courtroom 21 to participate in the project, it was a good opportunity for both. Crestron supplied several touch-panel controllers including the TPMC-17-QM, the TPMC-15-QM, and the wireless TPMC-10. Directed by the Crestron AV2, full command and integration of the touchpanels, display systems, and audio systems is now easier to manage and direct. "It gives us the ability to have multiple levels of control and annotation," said Gruen. "It's worked very well."

Besides the touchpanel at the judge, the clerk, and a limited one at the witness, the systems are used for annotation at the attorney podium and at the witness. The system can control the audio system, lighting, conferencing applications, and evidence presentation system, and each touchpanel has been pre-programmed to allow control of only the items necessary at that location. "For instance, an attorney may need to switch to a laptop or use a VCR or DVD, and they can use the limited-control screen so they can operate only what they really need to," he explained.

In the witness box it is only used for annotation. "The way they set up the program is ingenious," Gruen continued. "All the screens have the capability of complete control, but the icon to bring up the control screen is hidden on the witness monitor. All you see is full-screen evidence and you can annotate on it."

Audio processing is done by three Biamp Audia platforms. "We've had Audia ever since it first began. As part of the recent upgrade, we got the AudiaFlex. We have a very complex audio system, including the teleconferencing and echo cancellation built into the Biamp system, which is demanding, and it's worked flawlessly."


Mary Bakija is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of storytelling experience. Bakija is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Library and Information Science to help others find and tell important stories that might otherwise be lost, and to ensure those stories are preserved for future generations to see.