Vidconf technology saves courts big bucks

With a laptop and a webcam, judges can conduct hearings on the go, speeding up hearing times and saving money.

Videoconferencing between courtrooms and jailhouses is nothing new. But conventional videoconferencing technology is expensive and hard-wired. Hard to take on the road. But in Utah, courts are adopting lightweight technology that runs on laptops and webcams, and the result is that judges can conduct hearings even when on the road, the Associated Press reports.

There was nothing extraordinary about the brief court business, a handful of people in custody for misdemeanors appearing by camera before a judge. Judge John Sandberg didn't wear his robe but admits he ''had to make my room look neat.'' He was 1,200 miles away in a hotel room in Oklahoma - not a courtroom in Davis County.

The software from Viack Corp is aimed at corporate settings but the Utah courts found it an especially appealing alternative. The system allowed Sandberg to attend a drug conference in Tulsa while still tending his docket.

''This is going to be a godsend,'' said Judge Dan Gibbons, who handles misdemeanors in Holladay, a Salt Lake City suburb. ''We'll cut down the transports from jail to my court by 90 percent. It's good for prisoners because we can get to them sooner. I'm concerned about their rights, too.''

''It's technology that's already existed,'' said Judge Michael Kwan, who sits in Taylorsville. ''We're putting it in places that are nontraditional.''

The system is well-suited for the courts because it includes instant messaging between judge and lawyers and includes the ability to read documents online. Communications are encrypted. Sandberg says the courts will save up to $500,000 simply by not having to transport prisoners from jails to courts for brief hearings.

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