Florida court posts cases on the Internet

Florida court posts cases on the Internet

Orange County broadcasts murder trials and traffic arraignments

The 9th Judicial Circuit Court site uses a mix of Java, HTML and SQL, as well as Adobe Acrobat,
to create its Web pages.

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

When the 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County, Fla., broadcast its first trial over the Internet last month, the court's Web site received 21,000 hits an hour during the three-day trial.

Some hits came from as far away as China, Saudi Arabia and Seoul, Korea, court officials said.

The trial of 68-year-old Shirley Egan grabbed headlines in the United States. Egan had been charged with fatally shooting her daughter after hearing her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend discuss putting Egan in a nursing home.

But the trial's content wasn't the only inducement. The broadcast was a first for a U.S. court Web site, and unlike 'Court TV' broadcasts, the trial was shown unedited.

'One of the reasons I feel we got such a tremendous amount of hits is that 'Court TV' has a specific way it packages trials. A lot of people want to see [a trial] without it being commented on,' said Brett Arquette, the court's chief technology officer.

The court is airing the trials to benefit the public. The court won't broadcast only salacious proceedings, but small claims and traffic arraignments as well, court administrator Matt Benefiel said.

'Personally, I think it is kind of boring,' said Lin Walker, a technical specialist with the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. Still, she expects other courts to follow Florida's example. The 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Jackson County, Mo., is considering it, she said.

The Egan trial was broadcast from Orange County's high-tech Courtroom 23. It is equipped with seven broadcast-quality video cameras: six mounted cameras operated through a voice-activated switch and a document camera at the podium for viewing evidence.

The video system is directly connected to all jail sites in the circuit via fiber-optic or T1 lines. It also has Integrated Services Digital Network capability.

The courtroom is equipped with flat-screen and plasma monitors.

Presentation of evidence, videoconferencing and real-time court reporting can be viewed from any of 20 flat-screen monitors placed throughout the courtroom.

20 screens

The clerk's area, the judge's bench and each of the four attorney tables have a 14-inch flat-screen monitor. The jury box has 10 of the same monitors on the rail for the first row or on thin mounted poles for the second row. Four 42-inch plasma screens are in the public seating with one per side on both the first floor and balconies.

Courtroom 23 uses 333-MHz Dell PowerEdge 2200 servers with 128M of EDO error-correcting code RAM, integrated 32-bit graphics and 2M of video RAM. The court uses a combination of Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and Linux 5.1 from Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., for its Web servers, media servers, and file transfer protocol and domain name system servers.

Applications include Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0 for the Web and DNS servers, and FTP and Microsoft Netshow for the FTP and media servers.

Over the firewall

Workstations and desktop PCs run Microsoft Windows 95 and 98. Graphics software includes Microsoft's FrontPage 98 and Paint Shop Pro 5.0, as well as Photoshop 5.0 from Adobe Systems Inc. To transmit over the Internet, the signal from the Web servers passes through a firewall at 100 Mbps and then is stepped down to a T1 line at 1.5 Mbps before interfacing with a T3 circuit.

The court's Web site is known as NINJA, which stands for Network Interchange Ninth Judicial Circuit Administration. The Web pages are coded with a mix of Java, Hypertext Markup Language, dynamic HTML and Active Server Pages.

Adobe Acrobat 4.0 is used to create Portable Document Format files. The site uses Structured Query Language for database applications.

Tallying bandwidth

When Orange County broadcast the Egan trial, it set a choke based on what the system could handle, Arquette said. 'We gave up a certain percentage of network to the broadcast while still leaving enough bandwidth for internal use,' he said.

But the T1 line to the Internet was swamped. There were an estimated 21,000 hits an hour, and 31,000 visitors stayed online for the entire event, Arquette said.

The county isn't too worried about hackers using the NINJA site as a portal to secure areas, despite the fact that NINJA lists all the hardware and software used by the court for the site.

'Our system is locked down as well as any system,' Arquette said. It is protected by a firewall from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

But more importantly, there are no related links to working databases. 'The quasidynamic information [on the NINJA site] is backed up each night,' he said. Even so, Arquette said, he believes most hackers target higher profile sites than a county court site.

Orange County is ready for more broadcasts. Each of its courtrooms is outfitted with a media plug-in, and each floor of the county courthouse has a Cisco hub so Category 5 cabling can be connected and run to each user.

The Osceola and juvenile courthouses are connected to Orange County's backbone by T1 circuits.

More courts will be virtually opening their doors in the next 10 years, Arquette said.

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