Technicians spent the past week updating the audio/video systems in Madison County courtrooms, but what many people don’t know is the 25th Judicial Circuit has long been a pioneer in video court recording.
Madison County courts were the first in the nation to switch to video for the official record of proceedings in the early 1980s, according to Judge Jean Chenault Logue. Her father, Judge James S. Chenault, was instrumental in making the change, a fact Logue did not know he was recognized for nationwide until she heard a keynote speaker mention it a few years ago at a National Court Technology Conference.
Previously, the judicial system had relied on court reporters who recorded proceedings either by shorthand or stenotype machine.
“It took forever to get a transcript of a trial,” Logue said. Transcripts of court proceedings often are key materials in an appeal, which has to be filed within a certain time period.
A shortage of court reporters also made it difficult to schedule one to cover court proceedings in every one of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Jefferson Audio Video Systems (JAVS), out of Louisville, installed the first audio/video recording system in Madison County, and the company has become a global leader in courtroom recording technology.
What started in Madison County is now called the “Kentucky model,” which other states and countries have modeled to improve the efficiency of their judicial system, the JAVS website states.
In 2010, Malaysia used the “Kentucky model” to update its judicial system and more than 400 courtrooms in that country use JAVS as the official record, according to the company. The system also is used in courtrooms in Australia, South Africa, Namibia and Mexico,
Logue said a video recording of court proceedings, and especially trials, adds more to the record than a written document.
“How someone looks, their demeanor, how they say something … that has an impact on how people perceive the credibility of the witness,” Logue said.
Video transcripts of trials can be created every day for attorneys to peruse, and appeals can be more quickly filed and resolved, she said.
Also, for the residents of Madison County, the video recording system allows all circuit court trials to be aired over cable TV’s public access channel for people to watch at home.
“It’s an open court, we want the public to see what we’re doing,” Logue said.
Need for an update
Last week, technicians from Jefferson Audio/Video updated the equipment in district, circuit and family courts of Madison County.
The 10-year-old system had started to experience difficulties, Logue said. Last year, the recording system malfunctioned in the circuit courtroom, and the day’s dozens of status hearings, pretrial conferences and sentencings had to be heard in the small courtroom on the courthouse’s third floor. In addition to slowing down the hearings, it created a security risk with prisoners and family members having to wait outside the courtroom until their cases were called, Logue said.
Logue serves on the state’s Court Technology Governance Committee. Each year money is budgeted for technology upgrades, and the committee is tasked with ensure the entire state keeps up-to-date. The committee also must ensure the technology is divided fairly among the counties.
The committee came up with a blind needs assessment that ranked each judicial circuit based on volume of cases, number of cases going to trial and age of its video system.
Based on this method, Warren County ranked first in need for a new recording system, with Madison and Clark counties, both part of the 25th Judicial Circuit, coming in second, according to Logue.
The new JAVS system
The systems installed last week is called JAVS 7. One of its main features is a redundant recording system, which allows for a backup if the main recording system fails.
“It has a lot of safety valves,” Logue said.
Another feature is the ability to connect a laptop computer to the system from a feed at the attorneys’ tables and play a video directly into the record.
Previously, if an attorney wanted to show a crime scene or surveillance video, a recorded disc was submitted as evidence after it was played on a courtroom television. Logue said there was always a concern that the disc couldn’t be played on a different system, but with JAVS 7, the video now would automatically be included with the trial’s video transcript.
“It will really make the record complete,” Logue said.
The system also allows for attorneys or witnesses to have what they’re saying recorded while the video is being played for the jury.
All of the systems’ the microphones, speakers and headphones have been updated. The microphones at the attorneys’ tables will have a light to indicate whether it’s on.
Another advantage of the technology upgrade is all courtrooms in district, circuit and family courts will be on the same version of JAVS. Previously, the courts all had different versions, and not all clerks knew how to work all the systems, Logue said.
Logue did not know the total cost of Madison County’s JAVS update, but she said the court technology committee is mindful of the judicial system’s limited funds and stays within budget.
“It’s certainly not an open pocketbook,” Logue said.
However, maintaining the court’s ability to have an official and accurate record of trials and other proceedings is key to protecting the rights of the state’s residents as well as saving money in the long run, Logue said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.