SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County Courthouse has gained a few technological advancements over the past three years, including updated monitors and microphones for video conferencing and listening tools to aid in the efficacy of court proceedings.
Julie Babbitt, assistant to 4th Judicial District Court Judge Darci Phillips, said the technological upgrades were luckily implemented just in time to be utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the new additions is a Microsoft Hub, a monitor that can be wheeled in and out of the courtroom to allow for video conferencing with those who may be unable to physically appear in court.
“It was great for the system to be in place because it’s user friendly,” Babbitt said. “I compare it to Zoom. You just download the app and if you have the app on your phone, you can appear, and if not, you can do it from your computer.”
The implementation of Microsoft Hub replaced outdated technology previously used in court, Babbitt said, allowing for clearer quality and higher efficiency to adapt to the times.
“We used to have a big projector and the projector was old. The light was very dim, it was hard, so this has been a great change because it’s crisp now,” Babbitt said. “I think everybody’s so used to technology that we’re used to having the crisp look of everything. It’s hard to go back to that projector era. Now, with this, it’s nice because everybody can see it and it’s a lot clearer.”
The boost in efficacy for video conferencing benefited the court beyond the height of the pandemic, however, saving the county and the state money and labor by allowing certain individuals to appear by video, Sheridan County Sheriff’s Deputy of Courts Steve Matheson said.
“When we have our weekend arrests for circuit court, they used to have to throw them on a minibus and bring them up to that jury box up there every Monday afternoon,” Matheson said. “[Video conferencing] is safer for them, it’s safer for the whole public. They have them do their initial appearance right from jail.”
Matheson also said video conferencing allows not only those who are currently in prison or jail to appear in court without transport but also those who are currently in any type of treatment.
“Some of these people are mentally [unwell], which we have no choice because they’re involuntarily held… They don’t have to leave that therapeutic setting because they have trust established with their counselor and they’re used to going into certain offices,” Matheson said. “It keeps them from having a meltdown and it also keeps us from paying to transport those people. If there’s no one else to transport, the sheriff’s office does.”
Babbitt said this saving of time and money also extends to the judges who are occasionally asked to travel to participate in out-of-county hearings, saving the local court from two missed days of hearings
“The great thing is that you can accommodate in that way and it’s more efficient,” Babbitt said.
In addition to the upgraded video conferencing systems, the court has received audio updates that work synonymously with the video conferencing while also allowing for better accessibility for those who are hard of hearing. The listening tools are handheld devices which allow attorneys and judges to be able to hear each other during sidebar in a trial. The devices can also be connected to headphones so jury members or spectators in the court can hear better.
The updated technology proves beneficial to the court and the public, Babbitt said.
“It’s been a really good thing for the community and for clients… I think the technology updates have been great. It’s a challenge at times because technology can be frustrating, but overall it’s a great thing for the community, for everybody that’s in our courtroom, to have that ability to use it for their case,” Babbitt said. “I think it’s better to have it than not, that’s for sure, and it sure has shown it and outweighs it. I’m glad we’re moving toward that.”
Leave a Reply