Courthouse Video: More than Meets the Eye

Courthouse Video: More than Meets the Eye

Editor’s Note—The bond hearing of Dylann Roof, the suspect charged with the Charleston Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting last week, was conducted via videoconference. The image of 21-year-old Roof, wearing a jail-issued uniform, standing center-screen, flanked by two heavily armed guards, has opened a new conversation about legal applications of video. AV/IT managers and systems integrators are fielding more requests for videoconference arraignments and remote testimony, but what are the best practices, codecs, and infrastructure requirements for secure links, especially as more AV data moves onto IT networks? Who is managing the video feeds on either end of the call? Should officers of the court—e.g., attorneys, judges—be trained on audiovisual technologies? Tim Kridel's feature, "Courthouse Video: More than Meets the Eye," was originally published in AV Technology Magazine last year. With the harrowing developments in South Carolina, I wanted to return to this story, update it, and underscore the point that the work you do has a direct impact on how people live, communicate, work, and interact with the world. I close this editor's note with a doleful tone of deep sympathy for the nine victims, their families, and the Charleston community. —Margot Douaihy

This screenshot from WLXT-TV in Columbia, S.C., shows the Charleston County Government's video feed for Dylann Roof's remote arraignment.

Courthouse Video: More than Meets the Eye

Video, audio, and IT are converging in courthouses, prisons, and other legal facilities. That’s creating opportunities for remote communication, but the jury is still out on the related challenges.

Add judicial and law enforcement facilities to the growing list of places where AV and IT are converging. And like their counterparts in the general enterprise, higher education, and other sectors, legal technology professionals face a variety of challenges, from security concerns to usability.

For example, enterprise IT managers often balk at allowing AV traffic such as video to run over their networks for reasons such as security and bandwidth. There and in the legal sector, that resistance is starting to wane, partly because technology has evolved to address their concerns. Case in point: the use of video for applications such as remote arraignment and testimony.

“In 2005, we saw an early adoption of videoconferencing over IP,” said Adam Lofredo, ExhibitOne strategic account manager. “This was an IT nightmare, since video consumed a lot of bandwidth. Eventually, videoconferencing manufacturers co-created the H.264 video standard, which was a compression algorithm that allowed decent videoconferencing calls at much lower bandwidth: typically 384 kbps.

“At the same time, the IT industry started making investments in the 10/100 MB switches. This combination allowed us to see most videoconferencing today run over IP.”

While some may perceive telepresence as a convenience, legal videoconferencing can offer significant advantages, such as using less tax-payer dollars to facilitate prisoner transport if the courthouse and jail are not co-located in the same vicinity. Other benefits of remote arraignments include public safety and prisoner safety. Brian T. Hermanson, 8th District Attorney, Kay & Noble Counties, Oklahoma, explained that most first appearances in Newkirk, Oklahoma, occur over videoconferencing. Oklahoma's Kay County Courthouse has been equipped with a video link and screen for remote arraignments.

As more courtrooms are renovated and updated, technology infrastructures also get improved. District Attorney Hermanson added that, for newer courthouses, there may even be policies in place to systematize video arraignments. "As the technology gets better and less expensive, videoconferencing is becoming more common in courtrooms," he said.

HDBaseT and Audio Video Bridging (AVB) are two other technologies increasingly used in courthouses and other facilities so audio and video can share the same Cat cabling. The next step is to have AV and IT share other elements of the infrastructure.

“We are currently not seeing the AV systems run over an existing network because of the network demands that AV requires,” Lofredo said. “However, the IT and AV networks are being run in parallel and co-habitate in the same backbone pathways and server rooms. Over the next few years, as IT departments deploy Gigabit backbone systems, we will most likely see a harmonic convergence where AV and IT are all run on the same network.”

It’s important to ensue that sharing infrastructure doesn’t make AV vulnerable to eavesdropping or create a back door into IT systems.

“It is critical to keep data secure, whether it’s streaming video or sensitive data that is on the courthouse’s network,” said AJ Shelat, Hall Research vice president of sales. “As AV has evolved, so has IT, and they each have the tools to share the physical space and keep sensitive data secure.”

But not all resources will be shared, including between just AV users. For example, court security might not want to use the same camera systems that support video arraignment. An InfoComm-American Institute of Architects committee that’s developing AV guides for designing courts and correctional facilities has explored that kind of sharing.

“They keep saying no, that they want better cameras for what they’re doing—such as video arraignment—than what the court security people will have,” said Bob Schwartz, a committee member who’s also HOK group vice president and justice project designer.

Objection: Who’s in Charge of the Technology?

Someone has to run all of those AV and IT systems, regardless of whether they’re converged.

“It varies by jurisdiction, but it could be the court clerk, a bailiff, sometimes the court reporter,” Schwartz said. “I think you’re pretty lucky if you’ve got an AV person in the courthouse.”

Day-to-day operations aren’t a minor issue. It’s just the opposite: If AV and IT systems aren’t working effectively together or at all, it undermines their ROI. Even so, it’s not uncommon for court reporters and other legal professionals to have AV and IT operations more or less dropped in their lap with little training.

“While the AV systems may be managed and maintained by someone who is highly trained and experienced, depending on budgets, it is often likely that the user of the system will have only basic training to use the system efficiently in order to get the job done,” said Hall Research’s Shelat. “Whether it is the bailiff or someone else, the responsible person in the room already has a core job and controlling the AV routing is just an added responsibility they are charged with."

One reason for limited training is money.

“In a world where everyone is trying to cut their budgets, there are an increasing number of those responsible for these systems that have not been properly trained in AV,” said Patrick Herlihy, Media Vision USA senior product manager. “This makes it incumbent upon us as AV professionals to ensure that the technology we bring to the table is designed and integrated to be as user-friendly and intuitive as possible.”

When comparing vendors and integrators for an AV or IT project, another thing to look for is their ability to train staff on newly installed systems.

“Proper training for basic features and operation should be a major consideration,” Shelat said. “We have seen the knowledge level vary considerably from one facility to another, but also from one bailiff to another. It is the job of the dealer and/or installer to provide adequate documentation and training for each installation.”

AV/IT training also varies significantly at the law school level, so it’s a mistake to assume that attorneys will always know how to run a control panel or connect their laptop to the projector.

“Insofar as I am aware, most law schools do not address AV issues except insofar as they might come up as issues in a given course,” said Fred Lederer, William & Mary Law School Chancellor professor of law. “Even then, a criminal procedure course, for example, might not even discuss the existence of remote arraignment or for Sixth Amendment confrontation clause purposes, remote testimony.

“A fair number of law schools do have technology-enhanced courtrooms for training students in trial practice. The degree to which that technology is used is very unclear and likely dependent on each individual teacher.”

Legal BYOD: Bring Your Own Dilemma?

One big difference between courtrooms and enterprise conference rooms is that the latter often limit the types of laptops, tablets, and other devices that they’ll support from an AV perspective. That leaves courthouse technology managers to figure out which interfaces to support at attorneys tables and elsewhere.

“Increasingly courtrooms are moving towards a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, where more attorneys bring their personal devices, including iPads and various tablets devices,” said Martin Gruen, deputy director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology, a joint experimental project of the William and Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts. “Knowing this ahead of time, and planning for these work style differences and expectations, ensures that every word is captured and recorded.”

But that’s easier said than done. For example, each courtroom would need the most commonly used adapters to connect devices to AV gear such as projectors. If that’s the strategy for dealing with BYOD, then it’s important to keep an eye on which interfaces device vendors are adding and dropping from their product lineups.

Unless a case involves, say, copyright infringement, it’s unlikely that an attorney or expert witness would need to display content that’s HDCP protected. Even so, content protection is something to keep in mind when troubleshooting because it’s not uncommon for a device such as a Mac to turn on HDCP even when the content doesn’t require it.

One way to minimize BYOD headaches is to provide PCs in each courtroom. Then attorneys, expert witnesses, and other non-staff can bring in their content on a flash drive. But that option doesn’t work for everyone.

“If their computer doesn’t have the same fonts, it throws off the formatting,” said Bob Schwartz, HOK group vice president and justice project designer.

Although tablets, laptops, and even smartphones are the best-known examples of BYOD, they’re not the only types of devices that technology managers and courtroom staff have to contend with. Document cameras are another.

“The variety of hardware presents a challenge, because they’re all sources that need to integrated into the system,” Gruen said.