Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
Common Pleas Court tests videoconference
By Margie Wuebker
Three inmates kept Wednesday appointments with Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham without leaving the Mercer County Adult Detention Center.
Everything appeared to go well as court officials conducted their first experiment with videoconferencing.
Inmate Spencer Kouts went first entering a not guilty plea to multiple drug-related charges. Rounding out the day was the probation violation hearing for Douglas Gilliland and the arraignment of Alan Bricher on drug-related charges.
Ingraham said the single monitor and camera set up on the court reporter's desk are only temporary as personnel determine what will be needed. The equipment used Tuesday is on loan from a supplier.
Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox and defense attorneys stood behind the court reporter's desk so the defendants could see them. Additional monitors and cameras are likely when the system becomes permanent.
Ingraham explained arraignments and pretrial hearings are ideal for videoconferencing. Handling the brief proceedings in this manner eliminates the need to transport jail inmates to and from the courthouse - a 6-mile round trip.
The jail, which opened in 2009, is equipped with a small courtroom. Inmates are escorted from the cellblock to the room without leaving a secured area.
"For the first time, everything went well," Kouts' attorney Richard Delzeith said. "Technology has certainly come a long way."
Daniel Myers, Bricher's attorney, said videoconferencing seems like a workable solution.
"As long as my client agrees, I don't see any problem," he added.
Fox agreed the trial run went well.
Myers said the only thing he noticed was a slight time delay, which could be corrected once the system is permanent.
Videoconferencing has been identified as a way to heighten security particularly in high-profile cases, eliminate unneeded transportation and streamline court proceedings.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said the move to videoconferencing probably would not save his department funds, but the money would be used to put officers back out on patrol.
Six or seven officers often are assigned to provide security for high-profile criminal cases, and several officers transport inmates back and forth to court for other cases.
In 2012, the sheriff's office made 423 trips to and from the courthouse transporting 720 inmates for a total 2,538 miles. Gasoline used in the process totaled $740.25. Some 703 hours were spent transporting inmates and providing courtroom security. At an average pay rate of $18.50 an hour, the time equates to an outlay of slightly more than $13,000, according to corrections captain Mark Heinl.