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In the future, a lawyer may not have to travel to Atlanta to appear before the Georgia Supreme Court. Today, the court begins installation of hardware that one day will allow lawyers can make their presentations from remote locations. When the court approves the system for remote argument, lawyers outside Atlanta can make their “appearances” before the court from a local school or anyplace with videoconferencing equipment. Georgia joins a handful of states using videoconferencing technology. Appellate courts are especially suitable venues since proceedings don’t involve juries, witnesses or much physical evidence. A few courts in Georgia and elsewhere are experimenting with allowing defendants to make video appearances in criminal cases. But that raises many questions about fairness that will have to be resolved. Installing videoconferencing equipment at the Supreme Court will take 30 to 45 days. Before remote oral arguments get under way, “a lot of reliability needs to be in place,” says Clerk of Court Sherie M. Welch. “We have to do it right from the start or else it will be a failure.” The court also has to set up protocols for video arguments, she says. Welch says the first experimental remote oral argument will be transmitted from the Georgia Bar office in Tift County. Area lawyers will take part in the trial run, although no date has been set. Videoconferencing also will allow the public to view court proceedings. Court sessions will be broadcast via the Internet, as well as into a special room in the Judicial Building, one floor below the courtroom, Welch says. The court will use this room to instruct school children and to accommodate overflow audiences. The court envisions that one day lawyers can argue their cases from “GSAMS centers” across the state. The Georgia Statewide Academic and Medical System (GSAMS) is a two-way interactive compressed video and audio network now used for remote education and telemedicine. There are more than 350 GSAMS sites located at schools, correctional institutions, Zoo Atlanta, Coca-Cola Space Science Center and Georgia Public Television facilities. The court’s videoconferencing will allow justices and lawyers at remote sites to see each other in real-time during court sessions. The lawyer’s monitor can be set to a “Hollywood Squares”-type view that places the image of each justice in a box. There’s also a “video-follow-audio” option that images a justice as he or she speaks. COURT MANAGERS TOUR COURT The hardware is the latest addition to the court’s high-tech gadgetry that has placed it among the nation’s leaders. Recently, the court displayed its technology to court managers from across the nation. The managers were in Atlanta for a symposium of the National Association of Court Management. Technology was a primary focuses of the conference. Two busloads of attendees jammed into the court to see the presentation dubbed “Appellate Courtroom of the Future.” At first glance, the court looks like any other. But tucked out of sight, wonders hide. A seven-foot projection screen descends. Seven flat-screen monitors-one for each justice-are recessed into the bench, out of view. Each counsel table also has its own flat-screen monitor. And, in the middle of the court, looking like an old-fashioned overhead projector, is the system’s centerpiece — “ExhibitStation One.” At the core of the “station” is the ELMO visual presenter/document camera, a custom lectern that houses high-tech presentation equipment used by attorneys to display in 3-D and color anything from X-rays to a murder weapon on the courtroom’s big screen and various monitors. Attorneys can draw on presentations the way football announcers show play diagrams with an on-screen light pen. Kevin M. Sandler, president of ExhibitOne, the Arizona company that has installed the court’s technology, calls it the “John Madden pen.” “If you watch football games, the weather-they’re all using the same kind of technology,” he says. Ability to annotate, no matter the evidence, is a very powerful tool, he says. Sandler recalls the rats’ nest of wiring that viewers constantly saw in Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom during the O.J. Simpson trial. He says that’s an example of how a high-tech courtroom shouldn’t look.

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