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DeKalb, Ga., Superior Court Judge Hilton M. Fuller Jr. has a new way to keep jurors from overhearing bench conversations. When lawyers approach the bench, he may switch on classical music in the jury box to drown out the conversations. An upgraded audio system is one of the latest pieces of technology added to Fuller’s courtroom, which has become a showpiece for trial court technology in Georgia. Judges from around the state visit Fuller’s courtroom to choose from among its features, which were paid for by the Georgia Courts Automation Commission. The technology needs of a trial court like Fuller’s are quite different from those of an appellate court, explains Kevin M. Sandler, president of ExhibitOne. His Chandler, Az.-based company is responsible for outfitting Georgia courtrooms with technology. Appellate courts don’t have a lot of evidence presentation requirements but do have general presentation and videoconferencing needs, Sandler says. With a trial court, he says, it’s all about jurors and the ability to show them evidence. It costs about $40,000 to $60,000 to equip a courtroom with electronic presentation tools, without videoconferencing, he says. Like the Georgia Supreme Court, Fuller’s court has the ExhibitStation, a super-projector that allows images of any kind to be piped to a projection screen and various monitors. The court also has flat-screen monitors in the jury box. The judge’s bench, the court reporter’s desk, and the witness stand also have monitors. KEEPING JURORS FOCUSED One problem trial courts face is maintaining jurors’ attention, especially while evidence is being presented. Under the traditional system, Fuller explains, when a lawyer wants to introduce into evidence an object, such as a photograph, she first must show it to opposing counsel, then to the judge. Once admitted, the photo likely will be passed around, juror to juror. That’s time-consuming and distracting. But when a lawyer in Fuller’s court seeks to introduce evidence, the lawyer can place it on the advanced projection table. A three-dimensional, color image of the item can be sent first to the judge’s monitor, then to opposing counsel’s monitor — while the jury sees a blank screen. Once Fuller admits the evidence, he can then press a button to allow the jury to view the evidence on their monitors. Lawyers can also draw the jury’s attention to a particular feature of the evidence with a light pen. Lawyers in Fuller’s court don’t have to use the system unless they want to. “We are not to be slaves,” he says. But many lawyers enjoy using the equipment. The electronic presentation saves time, but it also captures jurors’ attention because it’s a lot like watching television. “Jurors love it. Sometimes too much,” Fuller says. LATEST TECHNOLOGY IMPROVEMENTS Videoconferencing can allow participants in all kinds of proceedings to make remote appearances. Some states allow child witnesses in sexual abuse cases to testify in a private room in the courthouse. Some courts are even experimenting with allowing criminal defendants to “appear” for pre-trial hearings without ever leaving jail. Such use of technology raises important legal questions, such as what it means to “face” your accuser. Fuller recently received videoconferencing equipment as part of a technology upgrade, but he has no plans to use it for defendant appearances. “I personally do not favor, and do not want to have, [criminal] proceedings from jail,” he says. Arraignments are too important a proceeding to do over television, he says. “That’s my own personal view.” But Fuller does plan to use videoconferencing to have expert witnesses from the crime lab testify from a remote location. He also doesn’t see using it extensively in the civil context. Fuller says that soon he will try a case in which the elderly defendant is hearing-impaired. The defendant will wear a radio-controlled, wireless headset that amplifies sound in the courtroom, ending earlier communication problems. ROUGH BEGINNINGS “I’m a traditionalist,” says Fuller. “I had to get dragged into this — and I did.” He explains that when the system was first installed, there was “problem after problem.” Somebody dropped a monitor. Jurors kicked cords loose. At one point he says he wished the vendor would take it all away. But, he says, these were all “people problems.” The system wasn’t at fault. At least 10 Georgia courts have jumped on board with such technology. In the works: systems in Thomas, Tift, Grady and Gwinett counties.

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