...And Justice for All-it's more than just the title of Metallica's landmark fourth album. The phrase also happens to fit the philosophy of Stetson University in Tampa, FL, where a diverse new courtroom facility depends heavily on AV to set the standard for an even wider, more inclusive interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) within the American legal system.
Designed and integrated by ACE Communications, the Eleazer Courtroom, which stands as the nation's first "elder-friendly" courtroom, is about much more than simply installing ramps for wheelchairs. Instead, the facility has a multitude of features, including hearing-amplification devices, flat-panel monitors, and a multilingual software speech synthesizer, that join a host of other advanced presentation tools to make it a courtroom that is truly on the leading edge.
"Stetson University is a frontrunner in the field of elder law, and this facility will educate students in the issues of what's needed in courtrooms now and in the future in terms of technology," said David Goldenberg, vice president of ACE. "This may not be a unique installation, but I think it is a unique application. It is very different from how other law schools or courtrooms would be using similar technology: from the control panels to the microphones to the listening system to the display devices, the one overriding factor was we needed to make sure this room can accommodate someone who can't see well, can't hear well or is disabled."
A fully functioning courtroom as well as a classroom for Stetson Law school students, the facility benefited from ACE's deep experience building high-tech federal courtrooms across the country. With DVD players, VCRs and computers all potential sources of evidence presentation, quality video was a priority. "On the gallery level, there are four 42-inch ceiling-mounted Hitachi CMP4211 plasma screens, so whatever's being presented can be seen by the whole gallery," noted Sean Toohig, project manager for ACE. "There are also two Mitsubishi XL-5900U projectors shooting onto two Da-Lite Tensioned Advantage Electrol screens, one for the jury and one for the witness. Those screens are large enough so that any jurors with eyesight problems can see what's been presented. In addition, the attorneys, podium, witness and judge have their own NEC LCD 1570NX monitors for personal viewing. An ELO 1525L touchscreen is also on hand for witness annotation."
Another notable display is actually installed in the lobby of the court, where a 42-inch wall-mounted Panasonic TH-42PWD6UY plasma screen is outfitted with a Smart Touch Overlay system. "In essence, that creates a multifunction touchpanel kiosk in the lobby," Toohig explained. "That can be used for showing scheduling or explaining to the people that work in the courtoom how each position there functions. It also serves as an extra display device of anything being shown in the courtroom when there's overflow from the gallery area."
On the sonic side, six Sennheiser ME66 microphones hear anything that is spoken or played back, then transmits the audio to multiple destinations. In addition to feeding audio and video teleconferencing and recordings of the proceedings, whatever the mics pick up can also go to an assisted listening system for the hard-of-hearing. "Anything spoken in the courtroom will go through a Listen Technologies System LR-400 listening headset, which incorporates neck loops that can communicate to people's hearing aids. Jurors that need them can set it and forget it," Toohig added.
With five Canon VCC50i cameras in the courtroom for recording, plus two more Canon cameras and four beyerdynamic SHM 22 H US WS microphones in each jury deliberation room for recording happenings there, an appropriate level of control for all this AV is crucial. Towards that end, the court "technographer" and other positions have Crestron TPS touchpanels, led by Crestron's Rack 2 in the AV system's head-end room on one side of the courtroom. But that's no ordinary graphical user interface on the touchpanel. "Since it was for ADA clients and the elderly, they wanted a very specific GUI," Goldenberg said. "It has large buttons and contrasting colors. A lot of time was spent between Stetson and our programmers getting it exactly right."
The web of video inputs and outputs is managed by an Extron MAV 3232 switcher and Extron Crosspoint 1616 RGBHV switcher, with two FSR MAS-1000 computer scalers and two FSR MDC-MK1 scan converters also present. "We know Extron is a very good workhorse-there's a lot of routing going on at any one time and they can take the abuse," Toohig noted. "The courtroom also has an outboard streaming system, so a video or computer feed of whatever's being presented can be provided, and then streamed for later viewing from the school's website."
The audio matrix is even more interesting, with hours of painstaking calibration helping to set up the Polycom Vortex DSP for near-automatic mixing of the multiple sources. "Whatever source is selected, the associated audio is sent to the vortex, mixed with the microphones and sent out to the various systems," Toohig explained. "Volume level-wise, the technographer does have control over individual microphones, and of the program source audio as a whole."
When it comes to expanding the scope of the ADA in legal facilities, Stetson University and ACE are clearly taking a strong stance with the Eleazer Courtroom. "It's one thing to design a system that's accessible to people in wheelchairs," Goldenberg stated. "It's different when you have to take all these disabilities into consideration and say, 'We have to develop a system to let people hear or see better.'"