TriniCom has its day in court

Today the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida conducted its first
video hearing. Lawyers in a Fort Myers courtroom pleaded their cases before Chief Judge
Alexander L. Paskay in Tampa.


The Sony TriniCom 5100 videoconferencing system installed in each of the courthouses
synchronizes audio with full-motion video and provides document imaging. Florida court
officials hope the system and its Integrated Services Digital Network connection will
eliminate 125-mile trips between the two cities.


Another system has been installed in the court's offices in Orlando, and a fourth
office in Jacksonville expects to begin video hearings soon. If it goes well,
videoconferences of routine hearings could reduce in-town and statewide trips for
attorneys and judges.


"What we're trying to do is get the bar to buy into the technology," said
Carl Stewart, clerk of the bankruptcy court for the Middle District. "Ultimately,
we're hoping attorneys would buy units for their offices."


The court bought the four conferencing systems in July from Sony Corp. of America of
Park Ridge, N.J. The H.320-compliant systems have Sony coder-decoders, powered by 25-MHz
486 processors.


Stewart said court officials liked the $25,000 price tag and the TriniCom's ability to
hold multipoint conferences for up to four sites without a multipoint control unit.


At an ISDN transmission rate of 128 kilobits/sec, the TriniCom gives full-motion video
at 30 frames per second with synchronized voice. Participants also can share and edit
documents.


"We think it's going to be a great solution," Stewart said. "As the
person talks, you see the person's movements. It's a workable medium."


The video hearings will yield immediate savings for attorneys and litigants, who will
spend fewer hours on the road. Those savings will trickle down to creditors, who will get
more of their money back from bankruptcies if less is eaten up by legal fees. Taxpayers
also will benefit as judges use their time more effectively, Stewart said.


The eight-judge Tampa court is second nationally only to Los Angeles' in size. It
handles 42,000 cases each year and is consistently among the top four in volume of
filings. Its judges need all the help they can get to handle the caseload, Stewart said.


Four of the court's judges work in Tampa. Two judges are in Orlando, and two are in
Jacksonville.


Paskay visits Fort Myers two days a month, holding a total of 80 hearings there. That's
why Fort Myers became the first site for the videoconferencing system.


"We're going to schedule videoconferences there one day a month, and we'll go from
there," Stewart said.


Initial reaction from the Fort Myers Bar Association has been enthusiastic, Stewart
said. Currently, attorneys drive to Tampa for immediate hearings or wait until Paskay
comes to town for routine business. Videoconferences could replace the two-hour drives and
the two-week waits.


The system may become even more popular when the Tampa court moves from a suburban
office park with plenty of parking to a downtown office.


Faced with the prospect of crosstown drives and scarce parking, lawyers in nearby St.
Petersburg also might opt for videoconferencing instead of face-to-face hearings.


"The St. Pete bar is looking at purchasing a videoconferencing system for
hearings," Stewart said.


The court has to buy a switch to let the network conference with other H.320 video
systems. "We're looking at purchasing a multipoint control unit," Stewart said.


But videoconferencing will not replace live courtroom action.


"It's not going to work for everything," Stewart said. "It's not going
to work for confirmation hearings or big trials."


For routine hearings, though, it can save time and money. "At least, that's what
we foresee," he said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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