Like nearly every other venue in America, courtrooms are using modern technology and have discovered its significant benefits, particularly for electronically displaying evidence and monitoring bench conferences. As yet, most courtrooms are hardwiring built-in microphones, cameras, computer screens, projectors, and other key technology, a method that can cost several hundred thousand dollars for just one courtroom.
Clinical Professor Stephen Simon and Educational Technology Manager Greg Carr have a better idea, a portable multimedia system they call “Port-a-Court.” Completed last fall, the system is an efficient, compact, moveable electronic courtroom. And it costs less than $7,000 to put together.
How many lawyers does it take…
Simon and Carr’s Port-a-Court consists of a document camera, an LCD projector, two small video display screens, wireless microphones, and a few other necessary devices, all consumer-grade equipment they obtained in local electronics stores. The system can be transported with a single presentation stand and set up in about 15 minutes by one person after limited training.
In a standard courthouse with dozens of courtrooms, hardwiring all of them with an evidence-presentation and bench-monitoring system is not economically feasible. But the Port-a-Court can be easily moved from courtroom to courtroom as needed. “It can be taken anywhere and set up extremely quickly,” says Simon. “It minimizes the cost barriers and scheduling conflicts of courthouses with hard-wired courtrooms.”
The evidence-presentation component of the system uses document cameras, computer screens, and projectors to show documents and physical evidence. Judges and witnesses can preview material before it is admitted into evidence, and the system can limit viewing to a few people or open it up to the whole courtroom.
The bench conference monitoring component, using microphones and receivers, allows the defendant and the court reporter to hear the conversation at the bench between the judge and the attorney. The system also can play music in the jury box to prevent the jury from hearing bench conferences.
Flushed with success
Simon and Carr have been working on their innovative, powerful creation for several years. After considerable research, they purchased and assembled the consumer-friendly equipment required to attain functionality equal to a hardwired system.
They have recently begun to demonstrate and loan their Port-a-Court to a few interested judges. Their goal is to show how efficient and economical their wireless system is, not to market it.
"We're not in this to make money and sell our system," says Simon. "We want to educate the courts and show to them that this system is very low cost and effective, flexible, and simple to use."
If courts compare the Port-a-Court with an expensive hardwired system, they will find that "it achieves the same end result," Carr adds. "And you can't beat the price."
The Port-a-Court system, above, can be tightly compacted as shown in the upper left-hand corner.