Video Court Recording

kopf640x800In his blog “Hercules and the Umpire”, Nebraskan US District Court Judge Richard Kopf makes a detailed, cogent and powerful argument for replacing court reporters with digital court recording. Here’s his bottom line from his post titled “Lighting the fuse: It is time to get rid of court reporters in federal courts“:

Digital audio recording saves the federal courts money.   For example, an internal study I conducted of our court three years ago indicated that the public would be saved about $110,000 per year if 3 reporters were replaced with digital audio recording.  My study was very conservative.  The Clerk’s office senior management was consulted about it and found no basis to dispute the conclusion.

Well, other than perhaps adding an argument for video as an essential element of the digital court recording, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Read Judge Kopf’s entire post for his well-reasoned, dispassionate and common sense take on the issue of court reporters vs digital recording. I particularly appreciate that Judge Kopf takes a replacement by attrition approach. As I’ve emphasized over and over in this space, good reporters are exceptional professionals who work very hard performing an essential task for the public and the courts they serve. But it’s time to move ALL courts into the 21st century and save precious tax dollars for other pressing budgetary concerns.

What if I told you that you can utilize relatively inexpensive web-based video conferencing to extend and enhance those expensive hardware-based video conferencing units your court purchased several years ago but you rarely use because it’s all just too complicated to use?

vidyo natural

What if I told you that you can utilize a single interface to control a video conference between your hardware-based video conferencing unit in your court and anyone from anywhere in the world who has an Internet-connected device with a webcam, including smartphones or tablets simply by sending them a link or a text message?

Just imagine having access to interpreters and remote experts living anywhere in the world at minimal cost!

Now, imagine having the audio and video stream from a remote expert witness or translator become part of the official record of the court by easily integrating the video conference participants with your court’s audio and/or video digital court recording system. Jefferson Audio Video Systems, or “JAVS”, can demonstrate exactly how they accomplish this using the same technology to bring you into their mock courtroom in Louisville, Kentucky as you could be using in your courtroom anywhere in the world. (Companies similar to JAVS may be able to achieve a similar solution but I’m unaware of another court vendor who can demonstrate a working solution from a live courtroom on request.)

If massively expensive and complicated hardware-based systems for courts was Courtroom Video Conferencing 1.0 and marginally improved but still expensive hardware-based systems with their own proprietary software for remote participants that too often don’t work when you try to hold a video conference was Courtroom Video Conferencing 2.0 — then Vidyo’s new unified “3.0″ platform that allows courts to combine almost any flavor of existing hardware-based video conferencing systems with almost any Internet connected, webcam enabled device anywhere in the world is Courtroom Video Conferencing 3.0!

Trust me, you’re gonna want 3.0!

If you’re reading this and thinking, why wouldn’t we use a system like this for all manner of internal purposes that could save the courts and taxpayers a lot of money, then you’re thinking exactly what I’m thinking. And, if you couldn’t previously afford one of those clunky, expensive hardware-based video conferencing systems for your courtroom, then there’s no reason to buy one now because you can just use an inexpensive software-based system instead. If you truly need a room-based system with hardware, then Vidyo offers an awesome room-based system for UNDER $1,000!!!

Okay, I’ve shilled enough for Vidyo for one day. The fact is that when I was trying to find a solution for JAVS to enable web demonstrations of JAVS’ courtroom video technology to court officials around the world, I literally tested every major solution available at any price. Vidyo was the only technology that could successfully deliver the JAVS voice activated switching video feed to the court official participating in the web conference on the far end. With Vidyo, JAVS regularly delivers live web demos of their system to court officials around the world. And if JAVS can do this every day from a mock courtroom in Louisville, Kentucky then your court can, too!

A JAVS system is not required but JAVS has a lot of experience with implementing Vidyo and no one knows courts better than JAVS. If I can help, give me a call at 502-759-6042 or email me at kurtmaddox@gmail.com. I can point you to the right folks who can help. If you use another vendor for digital court recording, I can point you to independent resources who can assist you with understanding how Video Conferencing 3.0 can help your court succeed!

1890_Dictating_Machine_used_by_StenographerYou know how the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, first of all, if it’s a forest, there are always plenty of things that can hear around to make the answer a moot point. Likewise, the vast majority of court transcripts captured by any of available technology from traditional transcription to audio and/or video recording ultimately serve no purpose other than to insure that a record of what happened during court will be available IF one is ever needed. Fortunately for the office of the court clerk, only a small percentage of court transcripts are ever requested once they are filed to be stored for the legally required period of time. In fact, less than 10% of court transcripts are ever needed. Like all those books in your local library, they just sit there waiting for the day they are called into action.

So, why do so many courts transcribe 100% of their proceedings?

The answer is simple. Habit and tradition.

Before the advent of audio and video recording, the only way to insure a complete court record would be made available after the fact was to have someone sit there and write down what was said during a proceeding. The traditional court reporter or stenographer served a critical purpose and where court reporters are still faithfully recording every word spoken during live court, they still do. The problem is that the expense of producing transcripts for 100% of court proceedings amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted tax payer dollars. As anyone within an earshot of a courthouse in the United States already knows, this funding is desperately needed in other areas of the chronically budget-challenged justice system.

Fortunately, the problem is super-easy to solve. There are any number of proven solutions available to the world’s courts that can cost effectively make an audio and/or video recording of every court proceeding every single day come rain, shine, flu or fender bender. It really is as simple as you just press the record button, hold court and then press the stop recording button. Today’s systems handle everything else for you. If you need to review the proceeding, then you can either just watch the video, listen to the audio or have an old-school transcript made from the recording. Presto! Problem solved.

If only the world really worked according to such logical rationale. In the real world, the question of “traditional court reporting versus digital court recording” has become primarily a political question. Where court reporters enjoy political power or favor, they remain the indispensable agents of the court they’ve always been.  But the landscape has begun to change more quickly after over 30 years of near glacial speed adoption of audio and video court recording.

Court reporters are, with rare exception, kind, generous, hardworking and respected court professionals. Historically, many are handpicked by their judges and become indispensable to the operations of the court. From an objective analysis, however, court reporters are very dispensable and easily replaced by a less expensive method that is a demonstrably better solution.

The good news is that as the pool of qualified court reporters shrinks for a variety of factors, the good ones left have lots of attractive options when they are displaced from official court employment. The primary option for these practitioners of the ancient and difficult craft of stenography or the newer but equally demanding art of transcription is now the private market. If you don’t believe me, just Google “professional transcription” or “stenography” for your city and see the results. In a bit of irony, the confluence of the video age with the computer database has created high demand for Internet video to be transcribed to make the contents more searchable. How’s that for a novel proof of Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market at work?

Seriously folks, if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way by using traditional court reporters in live court to produce transcripts for 100% of your court proceedings then you’re doing it wrong. Vendors such as JAVS, FTR, Liberty and others offer a range of affordable audio and video court recording solutions for any budget. Best of all, if you just can’t live without sitting down to a good court transcript at night then you can just upload the recording to Pheonix-based AVTranz and they’ll have one of their awesome transcribers shoot back a PDF transcript in a nanosecond or maybe a little longer depending on the length of the trial!

Do yourself and YouTube a favor and install either an audio or video court recording solution this year. Trust me, YouTube needs the transcribers more than courts do!

About the Blogger: Kurt Maddox is a veteran former digital court recording executive turned consultant/pig farmer living in Louisville, Kentucky with his attorney wife and a couple of Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pigs. Kurt serves as an executive advisor to Jefferson Audio Video Systems (JAVS) and actively consults with courts and other court technology vendors in areas related to audio and video court recording.

transparencyA month has gone by since transitioning from working fulltime in the digital court recording industry to a much more limited role as an advisor to Jefferson Audio Video Systems (JAVS). So, this is my first post as a quasi-outsider to the question of the role of video technology inside the world’s courtrooms. I could imagine a scenario where I’d soften my views on the necessity of video recording in every courtroom in the world once my livelihood wasn’t directly tied to courts implementing video court recording technology. Instead, a little time and distance has left me more convinced than ever that citizens everywhere should DEMAND that every public court hearing, city council hearing and most administrative hearings be recorded and made available to the public. My 3+ years studying this issue and following the press coverage of various voices on the subject leave me absolutely convinced of a simple truth — VIDEO RECORDING EQUALS TRANSPARENCY!

My conclusions aren’t based on technological considerations although any questions about the feasibility of automatically recording the audio and video of public hearings and court proceedings were answered a long time ago. Today, there are several vendors able to equip courtrooms and public hearing rooms with reliable audio video capture and management systems. These systems are relatively inexpensive versus the alternatives, very easy to use and are able to make the captured media accessible to the public, including via any Internet-enabled device. With the questions of technological capability, affordability and accessibility answered, there’s really only one questions left to answer — the question of accountability.

Unfortunately, with so many more pressing challenges occupying the public’s attention these days, it’s difficult for the public to place sufficient pressure on public officials to bring about the transparency the public deserves. The good news, however, is that the use of video inherently continues the trend toward greater transparency, even if it’s for a more practical consideration than enabling the proper functioning of democratic institutions. The driver of video court recording is money and the unprecedented budget challenges facing courts; a court system currently using traditional live court reporters can save big money by replacing live court reporters with digital court recording.

One view that has softened over the past year and continues to soften as I understand the needs of the justice system from a broader perspective is whether courts should make the video recording the “official record of the court”. It’s clear to me that there are times when a written transcript is the most efficacious document for attorneys, litigants and court officials who need to review or work with court records. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that video should be the official record of the court in the great majority of circumstances. But my friends in the court transcript business have educated me on all the scenarios where a written transcript is not only helpful but maybe even necessary.

Fortunately, when a written transcript is needed, there’s still no reason for courts to be directly involved in the transcript business. With the click of a mouse, a digital recording of any court proceeding can be sent to a remote transcription service from trusted providers like Phoenix-based AVTranz or local transcription companies like Louisville’s Kentuckiana Reporters. Regardless of how the official record is ultimately handled, the fact remains that only video can provide an equivalent level of transparency to actually being present in live court. Only video captures tone, context and the non-verbal elements that play such a major role in understanding what really happened during a court proceeding. Only video holds everyone — judges, lawyers, litigants, and the public gallery — fully accountable for their role in the cause of justice.

My conclusion then, after more than three years of considering the question from every possible angle, is that the more than 50% of America’s courts without video recording, and even more of the world’s courts, should either volunteer or be compelled to capture video recordings of every proceeding. Whether done for the high-minded cause of transparency so essential to democracy or simply to save a bunch of money, these courts should go video!

Vidyo Logo 160 x 60Excerpt: “We use our CoroCall Vidyo service for everything from intra-company conferencing to formal live demos of our courtroom audio video management and capture solutions to potential clients around the world,” said Kurt Maddox at JAVS, Inc. “For a small company with a global footprint, CoroCall’s Vidyo services allow us to extend our limited resources further than ever before.”

Here’s the link to the article: http://bit.ly/UgC04X

JAVS Centro FlexCamI am, of course, a huge fan of the OpenCourt live streaming project funded by the Knight Foundation in support of the use of video cameras in the United States’ courtrooms. The court chosen for the project is the Quincy District Court just south of Boston, Massachusetts. Quincy District Court was already equipped with an audio-only digital court recording system installed several years ago by JAVS. During the initial phase of the project, a single video camera was added by OpenCourt that was separate from the JAVS system in order to live stream daily court proceedings. Last month, JAVS auto-switching cameras were added to the courtroom’s JAVS system so that OpenCourt could stream a more interactive experience to the public.

Check out the OpenCourt blog post by Joe Spurr about the addition of multiple auto-switching cameras here:

http://opencourt.us/2012/09/multicam-coverage-of-jury-room-a/

If you take a couple of minutes to create an account, you will be able to access the video archives of the live streamed sessions. Please note that the live streaming archives are not the exact same feed that is being recorded by the JAVS system as the audio record of the court. To accomodate the needs of the live streaming service, the audio being streamed is a hybrid of the JAVS audio and other audio being used for the live streaming service.

If you support the concept of greater transparency and improved public access to the courts, please share the OpenCourt live streaming project via your favorite social media outlets!

On July 18, 2011 the United States Federal Courts went live with video court recording pilot programs in 14 federal courts. The much anticipated evaluation has 2 years remaining of a planned 3 year effort to allow video cameras and recording. Since JAVS was very unfortunately not chosen to participate in the pilot, today was the first time I could find the time to view the archives of the videos available online from the 14 pilot courts participating in the program. You can view the pilot videos here:

http://www.uscourts.gov/Multimedia/cameras.aspx

Since video court recording is my passion, I was a bit like a kid in a candy store seeing all those links to video recordings from all those federal courts to check out. As I’ve stated many times, I’m not just an advocate for my own company’s solution for courtroom video. I have a simple belief that the public has a legitimate interest in the operation of their justice system at every level from their local courts, to state courts and federal courts. The concept of the “public square” has been mostly lost in modern jurisprudence. Public access to actual court video reconstitutes the essential elements of transparency and accountability lost in an era of unwelcoming, highly secured justice centers. So, I take no pleasure in expressing my overall disappointment with the samples of court video that I viewed today from the federal court video pilot project.

First, apparently multiple vendors were chosen for the various courts because there is absolutely no consistency between courts. Some courts have switching cameras that follow the speaker while others have various types of split-screens. Both the audio and video quality range from pretty good to pretty bad, with some just inexplicably unacceptable. Most of the audio appears to be “unmanaged”, meaning that it’s just raw audio from standard microphones that does not run through any type of digital enhancement before it is recorded. I see a lot of this around the country, and it’s a shame because systems such as The JAVS System and others have very good audio quality that is far superior to the general audio quality found on the sample pilot recordings.

Still, I don’t want to be overly or unfairly critical because the federal courts are to applauded for undertaking the video court pilot program. My fear, then, is that the generally poor systems being used in the pilot will create an inaccurate impression about the quality and usability of courtroom video systems. Of course, the poor quality could be the function of the budget allocated for these pilot systems, forcing the integrators involved to do the best they could with available funding. I think I’ll go with that one!

The fact is that there are numerous examples available of great court video recording systems deployed by very good A/V integrators in courts around the world. There are lots of right ways to produce a quality courtroom audio video recording and a lot of great products on the market to help courts succeed with video court recording. So, if you do take the time to view any of the videos from the federal video pilot, please keep in mind that there are systems available that produce automatically-switched video recordings with very high-quality managed audio. For example, compare the sample below from a JAVS courtroom in Nashville to recordings from the federal pilot:

There are no sour grapes here as I really did expect to be impressed by most of the sample videos and I am not familiar with exactly how the various supporting vendors were selected. Let’s hope the pilot creates enough value for the federal courts to go forward with opening up their courts to video. If they do, I  hope the federal courts seek out vendors and integrators offering better systems than those supporting their pilot program!

I was once a member of the UAW in my early 20′s and my dad is a retired member  of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). I believe labor unions have served an important historical function and I fully support the rights of today’s unions to engage in collective bargaining with government and private employers. Personally, I am not as supportive of public unions who use labor strikes when critical public services such as air traffic controllers and court workers are involved. That said, every union has the right to act within the law even when doing so may or may not be in their own best interest. Certainly, all the court workers who I know are dedicated, hard-working professionals who earn every penny in a challenging but rewarding work environment. Perhaps no one in the entire court system works harder than a really good court reporter and all court employees should be fairly compensated relative to the funding available to pay them.

(Full disclosure: My mother is a veteran court clerk in my hometown where my aunt is the elected Circuit Court Clerk serving her fourth term in office. My hometown courts have used video as the official record of the court for their entire careers. I actually remember when video recording started in my hometown courts back when I was a high school student. I’ll be 46 in a few weeks.)

However, given today’s court walkout by union court workers in San Francisco, courts should be thinking about available back-up plans that will enable them to hold court with minimum staffing when and if needed. In fact, the very first digital court recording systems in my home state of Kentucky were deployed for precisely these reasons — so that the Jefferson County courts would be able to function during a time when court reporters were threatening a labor strike.

That was some 30 years ago. At the time, Kentucky’s courts utilized official court reporters in most courts to created the official written transcript of the courts. Kentucky’s early experience with video transcripts convinced them that court reporters, although certainly of great value to the courts for decades, were not essential. Video recording could and ultimately did replace every live court stenographer in all 120 Kentucky counties. To date, only Kentucky’s courts have completely supplanted written transcripts with a video transcript as the official record of the court. As readers of this blog know, other states are considering similar actions and many more states have gone to a hybrid system of using audio or video recording to support the creation of official written transcripts. I would call this the “best of both worlds” scenario. Although not as financially compelling as going all the way with official video transcripts, the various hybrid models in use give courts critical flexibility while continuing the entrenched practice of court produced written transcripts.

I have never subscribed to the technology versus people way of looking at technological progress and the case of court reporters versus digital court recording is no different. Each court system should determine what mix of people and technology works best for their particular situation. My only agenda is helping courts understand the available options along with the relative advantages and disadvantages of those options. I do happen to hold a strong belief that every court should at minimum have digital court recording capability in every court of record either as the primary source for court reporter produced transcripts or as a back-up in circumstances where the human element would otherwise cause expensive and unnecessary delays to a court proceeding. It is true that machines can malfunction same as a human being can make a human error, get sick or be unable to make it to court for any number of understandable reasons. In reality, the experience of the past 30 years demonstrates that mechanical problems with digital court recording systems are statistically extremely rare while the instances of a breakdown in the human element causing courts difficulties are more frequent. In fact, many of the reported issues with digital court recording ultimately prove to be the result of human error. But let me  be clear — there are no perfect digital court recording systems just like there are no perfect human beings.

We unfortunately live in a time of unprecedented state budget shortfalls and court funding challenges. For lots of reasons, I wish this were not the case. But because of this reality courts are going to be looking to technology to reduce labor costs. Simultaneously, these same cost pressures are likely to cause labor conflicts where court workers are unionized. I encourage the court administrators and judicial officials without digital court reporting systems to consider if an investment now in one of the many available audio video recording solutions might be a necessary exercise in today’s environment. For my money, video court recording is demonstrably the best backup plan available!

Notice: The opinions expressed in this post and all posts to this blog are entirely my own and not those of my employer or anyone else. ~Kurt Maddox

Today’s digital issue of “Indiana Lawyer” features a cover story announcing details of the 3 court video court recording pilot project in Indiana courts. These are exciting times for the transformation of courts around the world into models of modern jurisprudence and I enjoy my small role in it!

Here’s the link to the story on the Official JAVS Blog:

http://javs.com/?p=7971

Here’s the link to “Indiana Lawyer” digital edition:

http://www.theindianalawyer.com/

Here’s the direct link to the article:

http://www.theindianalawyer.com/pilot-project-will-introduce-video-transcripts-in-3-courts/PARAMS/article/29151

Courts everywhere owe the public they serve these three elements: transparency, accountability and accessibility. Making an official video recording of every judicial proceeding in every court provides each of these elements while creating other advantages and efficiencies for most courts. Traditional written transcripts produced by official court reporters served the courts well for over a hundred years but are needlessly expensive and slow for today’s digitized world. Audio court recording began either replacing or augmenting traditional court reporting in the middle of the last century and this was the right step when audio recording was the most viable recording media. Today, however, the public should demand that every court everywhere make a video recording of each court proceeding.

The technology is proven.

The expense is minimal.

The benefits are undeniable.

And, the time is NOW!

Believe it or not it has been over a quarter of a century since Kentucky’s courts began using a video recording system to create the record of court proceedings. Not long after, Kentucky became the first court system to legally require their courts to create and maintain video recordings of every proceeding in a court of record. Today, over 400 Kentucky courtrooms and tens of thousands of other courts around the world start every court session by first activating their digital audio video court recording systems. In these courts, the public or the media can obtain a video recording of any public court sessions for a nominal fee immediately after each proceeding.

Only video court recording provides a complete, transparent record of events.

Only video court recording holds all parties accountable during the judicial process in a way that is reviewable after the fact as if they were present during the original event.

Only video provides universal and immediate access to the Official Record of the Court in the format the great majority of a court’s constituents most prefer.

Sure, big cases draw the local TV cameras into the courtroom but more often it is only after the case is over that we discover its importance. Only when every case is recorded on video does the public have a guarantee of an opportunity to witness first hand exactly what happend in the courtroom. Words are often not enough to capture the emotion of an important trial or the nuance of a witness’ testimony. Only video can do that!

In my humble opinion, the citizens of every community around the world should demand that their court system institute video recording to create the transparency, accountability and accessibility that is their right to expect from a modern justice system.

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