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Federal district court expands technology

By Gene Jansen

The District of Alaska has not only explored the world of digital courtrooms, it has committed many resources for technology-related improvements in its own court. The Bar Rag story titled, 'Exploring the courtrooms of the future,' in December's issue detailed how government and legal institutions worldwide have been expanding their repertoire of digital enhancements and computer training. Some of the tech tools described in the story are cutting-edge advancements, and many of them are now available in Alaska's federal courtrooms.

The District of Alaska recently announced completion of its first video-conferenced criminal proceeding. The successful Juneau-Anchorage hearing and many more like it could drastically reduce travel expenditures. Since the federal judiciary has recently shown its acceptance of new technology through rule modifications, useful courtroom improvements like video-conferencing (VC) may continue to be incorporated into the federal court system. Alaska's VC connectivity includes U.S. District Courts (USDC) in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

Other USDC improvements, like the Digital Evidence Presentation Systems (DEPS), have been installed and are fully functional statewide. DEPS training sessions are becoming more frequent and Alaska's legal community is becoming more aware of the benefits of using DEPS during the litigation process. But the District of Alaska's DEPS equipment offers more courtroom advantages than simply placing documents on a light table and zooming in or out.
Although the potential legal implications from using complex graphics presentations in court still need to be addressed, attorneys have the option of preparing them on their personal laptops in advance of proceedings. When their court dates arrive, their complex visual presentations can be easily integrated into the DEPS for in-court viewing.
The District of Alaska has also rewired its courtroom audio systems. The USDC has been recording taped testimony of federal proceedings since the early 80s. Court participants and USDC staff who previously ordered court recordings may have had to wade through hours of cassette tapes to find a minute of needed testimony. Through the USDC's audio improvements when requesters order a minute of testimony they receive a minute of testimony on a recordable CD, with no wading.

Like VC and DEPS, the transition from analog recording systems to Digital Audio Recording System (DARS) has also been completed in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. DARS four-channel technology has helped to make converging voices more isolated and audible while making the duplication and transcription processes more fluid. The USDC has recently installed a networked server designated for storing audio files. It enables electronic court recorders to find and duplicate archived audio files to CDs (for transcribers or other outside parties) directly off the network.
Additionally, the audio appliance provides judicial staff and federal law clerks with a means to locate and listen to court recordings straight from their office PCs.

The District of Alaska is working on many other improvements as well. Wireless microphones have made their way into Anchorage's federal courtrooms. U.S. District Court judges have made the cordless mics available for jurors to utilize during jury selection. The mics help to expedite the jury selection process by minimizing disruptions while increasing the quality of digital audio recordings.

Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks courtrooms have also been configured for real-time electronic court reporters. A certified Real-Time Court Reporter (RTCR) in Anchorage has already been utilized in one January trial by court. Case information is available to the public on the Internet through USDC's PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system. Call the PACER Service Center at (800) 676-6856 for access information.

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