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The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to launch a new videoconferencing system that is expected to save a lot of time and money for attorneys from Buffalo, N.Y. to Hartford, Conn. Beginning Sept. 3, three-judge panels may hear oral arguments with only one attorney — or even no attorneys — actually appearing in the courtroom. Instead, advocates for all sides may appear on television monitors transmitting images and voices from any of the 10 courthouses scattered throughout the 2nd Circuit. “If it works as intended it should be great,” said 2nd Circuit Clerk of Court Roseanne B. MacKechnie. “This should really benefit attorneys from upstate or other outlying areas in the Circuit.” The court attempted to implement a similar system almost three years ago, MacKechnie said, but there were technical glitches, including a distracting delay between the time an off-site attorney spoke and when his or her words were heard in the courtroom. But technology is much improved since the first experiment, said Operations Manager Richard George. And the time delay on the new system is “barely recognizable,” said Systems Manager David Harel. Nickole Brown, the Circuit’s telecommunications coordinator, Harel and other employees have been testing the system throughout the summer. Thursday, George and Harel demonstrated one of the new systems in a courtroom on the 15th floor of the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse at 40 Foley Square in New York. In front of each of the three judges seated behind the circular bench at the head of the courtroom sits a small video monitor allowing each judge to see and hear the attorney at the remote location. A similar system, designed by Joel Turner, the assistant circuit executive for automation who worked with vendor Polycom Inc., is also installed in the larger courtroom on the 17th floor. Positioned in front of the bench is a camera transmitting the argument of the attorney in the courtroom to the one at the remote location, who also has a live feed of the judges transmitted from two cameras positioned on either side wall of the courtroom and a single camera mounted on the back wall. Off-site attorneys also see the all-important timer limiting the length of their arguments. The courtroom deputy sitting in the well has a small screen and a computer to coordinate the system. For those in the audience, two large monitors show the remote attorney as well as the face of the one in the courtroom, who argues with his or her back to the audience. For overflow crowds, the attorney waiting rooms at the back of the courtroom also have monitors showing the judges and lawyers for both sides. Currently, 10 “video-argument centers” are set to go across the three states of the 2nd Circuit, and all are equipped with monitors enabling attorneys to see all three judges on split-screen, as well as their opponent in the case. In addition to 40 Foley Square in Manhattan, systems are ready in Albany, Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo in New York; Brattleboro, Rutland and Burlington in Vermont; and Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut. Another system will soon be ready in Mineola, N.Y., and, later, in Central Islip, N.Y. Attorneys too far from a courthouse system, can even use a video monitor at a local business center or copy shop. MacKechnie said that attorneys on three different cases have already requested to have long-distance arguments in September. “There are a number of different benefits: There are bad weather days where it’s hard to travel. There’s also solo practitioners or institutional litigants upstate who may find it hard to come down, or where travel might take a lot of time or cost too much,” MacKechnie said. “We’ve been doing some testing at some of the off-site locations and that has been going really well, so hopefully, our first case will run smoothly.”

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