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Technology in the Court

Nov 17, 2010 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

State-of-the-art mock courtrooms demonstrate future courtroom technology.


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In the moot, or debate, courtroom, two Panasonic TH-65PF10UK 65in. flatscreen plasma displays are mounted on the front wall above the bench. Anchoring these displays required drilling from the other side of the wall with steel rods that are able to support a 240lb. integrator-a demonstration Conference Technologies technician Joel Crotts conducted during the installation. Photo by Pamela Becker

In the moot, or debate, courtroom, two Panasonic TH-65PF10UK 65in. flatscreen plasma displays are mounted on the front wall above the bench. Anchoring these displays required drilling from the other side of the wall with steel rods that are able to support a 240lb. integrator—a demonstration Conference Technologies technician Joel Crotts conducted during the installation.
Photo by Pamela Becker

All of the input sources and displays are under both local and remote control. The former is via an Extron CrossPoint 450Plus 16x8 switcher mounted in a Middle Atlantic rack under the judge's bench, with an Extron WPB 103G with audio wall plate for control by the judge. For the latter, signals are routed to a basement control room three stories away over Belden UTP Cat-5e cabling. There, a 32x32-channel Extron CrossPoint 450Plus matrix allows the master engineer to route any combination of signals back to any display in the mock courtroom, or to any of the other wired rooms in the teaching complex (such as a moot courtroom), or to the Accordent Technologies Media Capture station system that assigns ID information to every video. The school's library can then issue that ID number to anyone wishing to access that data, with metadata that can provide information on who watched the material, when and where (either in the school's video access system or via the Internet), and for how long. It operates in conjunction with a Polycom HDX9002 high-definition videoconferencing system in the master control room that can be shared among any of the rooms in the audiovisual system. The system's complex programming was done by Lee Baker, a master Crestron programmer.

"It's an enormous amount of data, and there's a huge amount of information that can be taken away from how it's used," says Joel Crotts, lead technician for CTI.

Not Changing History

Crotts says a major part of the project's mandate was to not affect the aesthetics of the building. "The grid lines of downtown Memphis were laid out from the cornerstone of this building, so you get an idea of how historically important it is to the city," he says. After a gorgeous plaster ceiling fresco had been discovered behind a decades-old dropped ceiling, the university wanted to restore the entire building to as much of its former Greek Revival grandeur as possible, but still not impede the integration of all the technology its faculty could wish for.

The adjacent moot (debate) courtroom has much of the same AV technology as the mock courtroom. Notable exception are two Panasonic TH-65PF10UK 65in. flatscreen plasma displays mounted on the front wall above the bench instead of a projection screen. Mounting these displays illustrated how tricky historical buildings can be to work within. The brick wall on which the displays were to be mounted was nearly 2ft. thick. The solution was to drill through the wall from the opposite side and insert a steel rod, which was anchored with a large wooden washer. On the other side, to establish that the rod and wall would adequately support the display, Crotts gave it what he says was the ultimate test: The 240lb. integrator hopped up and held onto the protruding pipe long enough to satisfy himself, saying, "If it can hold me, it'll hold the display."

Cabling throughout the structure was fairly straightforward, using new conduit and trays where possible. The only real glitch came when the installers realized that they needed to run shielded Cat-5 cable for the Danish Interpretation Systems (DIS) audio system (distributed and supported through Listen Technologies). "The design of the DIS system uses digital signals for all of the audio streams to the microphones and speakers," Lahey says. "The shield is a necessary component in the system to remove and prevent any noise on the cable and eliminate any lost information in the system. For instance, in World Court proceedings and language interpretation, a lost or misheard syllable can be a very big deal."

Sound in the courtroom is via wall-mounted Renkus-Heinz ICX7 passive loudspeaker columns, which allow the sound to be highly controlled and directed only toward the coverage areas.

The mock courtroom is also fitted with a Listen LT82 assisted listening system for translation and hearing-assisted applications. "We took it to another level," Crotts says, noting that they switched out the system's usual RF operation for an infrared system. "The reason was to inhibit crosstalk to wireless systems in this room and other rooms." (The mock courtroom is equipped with a Sabine SWM7213-H-U-M1 wireless microphone system.)

The University of Memphis mock and moot courtrooms are not what most lawyers would expect to see when they walk into court today. "They're way beyond anything else that's out there in any government building now," Crotts says. But they will become a template for how courtrooms will change and evolve as the law, in an era of DNA testing and GPS surveillance, heads into its own technology-laden future.



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