The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Limestone County courthouse, Alabama
Aug 4, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez
Video Court Hearings
At Limestone County courthouse in Alabama, time is a valuable commodity. Located in the northernmost part of the state, the county only has a population of about 78,000. That number hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most advanced counties in the state where technology is concerned, and that’s due in large part to a recent installation that combines a paperless document-management system with videophones.
In September 2008, the courthouse took a closer look at the workflow surrounding its initial appearance hearings for those arrested for criminal disturbancesincluding DUIs, domestic violence, and theftto hear charges laid against them, the conditions of their release, and any restraints. By law, these hearings must take place within 12 hours following arrest. This can require judges who are on call to come in during the weekend or in the evenings. If the hearing is done during the week, the sheriff’s department must transport the defendant to the courthouse located roughly 2 miles away.
On average, the judges were conducting 25 to 30 initial appearance hearings a week, each lasting 10 minutes to 15 minutes per defendant. Factor in that it was taking 3 hours per inmate to conduct these hearingsincluding the time it took to get the defendant out of his or her jail cell, prepped to go, and transported, then have the hearing, and then bring back the defendantalong with needing two jailers and a deputy, and it’s clear that too much time and resources were being spent on a fairly simple task. The judges in the county thought technology could make the process more efficient. They put together a wish list that they then passed to David Freeman, director of IT for Limestone County.
“I got to looking and investigating into what some of the other city/county municipalities used for video hearings,” Freeman says. “A lot of them used closed-circuit television systems. For us, that really wasn’t feasible due to the distance between our jail facility and our courthouse. There’s about a 2-mile distance between them.”
Freeman met with the county’s Cisco sales rep to discuss what other options might be available using Cisco products. At that time, Cisco was just coming out with its latest videophone model, the Unified IP Phone 7985G with a 4”x5” LCD screen, which seemed like a good alternative for conducting these hearings remotely. Freeman initially looked at Cisco’s telepresence system, but he says it was too cost-prohibitive. Freeman also enlisted the help of Cabinet NG, a paperless document-management company, so that as the county was implementing a video system, it could go paperless by converting all its forms to a digital format that could be stored within the Cabinet NG system.
Limestone purchased six 7985G videophonesone for each judge, one for the jail, and one for an on-call Dell E6500 laptop system. Freeman estimates that the wiring in the courthouse was probably close to 100 years old, which would require rewiring. Although the courthouse is currently undergoing renovations, the particular floor that houses the judges’ offices wasn’t scheduled to be upgraded for another two years at the time. As a workaround, Freeman and his team came in and pulled Cat-5e and Cat-6 wiring on that floor and installed a Cisco switch. Freeman says the installation, which was complete in February 2009, was pretty seamless. The only bump came when they discovered they wouldn’t be able to run the Cisco videophone that was part of the on-call laptop kit because the judges’ home Internet connections weren’t fast enough to meet the phone’s requirements. They’re now using the laptop’s onboard webcam.
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