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AV Enhances Legal Proceedings

Sandoval County selected Professional Business Systems (PBS), an Albuquerque, NM-based AV equipment supplier and systems integration company, to rework its new courthouse's original AV design into a more feasible system.

AV Enhances Legal Proceedings

Sandoval County selected Professional Business Systems (PBS), an Albuquerque, NM-based AV equipment supplier and systems integration company, to rework its new courthouse’s original AV design into a more feasible system.

In recent years, the Sandoval County Courthouse has seen a steady increase in the number of court cases it hosts — specifically family law and child custody cases — that involve parties on both sides of the United States/Mexico border. To accommodate this rapid growth, Greg Ireland, court administrator and AV project consultant for Sandoval County, turned to Courtroom21, a court-specific AV test lab run by the National Center for State Courts, for inspiration (see sidebar on page 30).

To create the feeling that remote parties are actually in the courtroom, the concept was to install an LCD connected to a videoconferencing system above the witness stands. “If you just set up a videoconferencing system in a courtroom, it kind of makes people feel out of place,” Ireland says. “But with the monitor right above the witness stand, the jury is looking at someone testify at the regular witness area, even if they’re out of state.”

Judging Body Language

Courtroom videoconferencing for remote testimony requires much more than connecting a video source to a codec and using the existing audio system for sound. To find a solution capable of creating lifelike remote witness testimony, Greg Ireland, court administrator and project consultant for the Sandoval County Courthouse in Bernalillo, NM, turned to Courtroom21, a joint AV system experimental lab for courtroom technology from William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts. Courtroom21 has conducted research on the psychological effects that multiple types of videoconferencing systems have on juries.

“If you take a remote witness and put them on a 10-foot projection screen, it evokes an emotional reaction from the jury,” says Martin Gruen, deputy director for technology at Courtroom21. “People just aren’t used to seeing a larger-than-life person. You develop a credibility issue.” In that vein, Gruen says that installing displays, such as the 40-inch Mitsubishi MLM400 displays that show remote participants at near lifelike proportions in the Sandoval County Courthouse, is critical. In addition, placement, angles, and coverage of video cameras in the courtroom at the remote site play an integral role in creating the best possible remote testimony system.

“If I’m sitting at the witness stand, odds are you’re going to see my upper body,” Gruen says. “The camera on the far end should give you the view of the upper body so that you see body language and the hands. In the corporate world you have a lot more flexibility, you’re trying to see the person, and you aren’t trying to see those other factors. You’re not trying to say, ‘Is that person telling me the truth,’ ‘What’s their body language?’ In a court of law, you’re analyzing everything about that testimony.”

Audio is another important factor in remote testimony. Poor audio quality tends to further disconnect jurors from witnesses, which can affect their ability to judge a case, Gruen says.

“You don’t want to have any echo; you want a real clean sound,” he says. “That requires a sound system with good mics and good echo cancellation, so it works properly. Currently at Courtroom21 we’re using a Biamp Audia system where all of the microphones have the Biamp AEC2w input card, which provides high-fidelity acoustic echo canceling, so you get a tremendous, clean signal. If you’re using an audio system that’s integrated into the courtroom where you have multiple microphones, gating, ungating, and such, it gets much harder to use the videoconferencing units’ AEC.”

To make the concept a reality, Conedera installed a Mitsubishi MLM400 40-inch LCD display above the witness stands in each courtroom, and connected the displays via Cat5 cable to a Polycom VS4000 videoconferencing codec located in the center courtroom. The codec has its own dedicated, 16×16 built-in switcher to handle the multiple Cat5 tie lines from the other courtrooms. The single codec allows only one courtroom to use the videoconferencing system at a time, but also allowed Conedera to eliminate the cost of adding two additional codecs.

To complete the videoconferencing system, PBS installed Sony EVI-D70/W PTZ cameras in each courtroom and connected them to the codec. The cameras are individually controlled via built-in processors, but there wasn’t enough conduit space between courtrooms to run more than one cable from the cameras in the side courtrooms to the central codec. In order to send audio, video, and control signals back to the codec, the team installed Sound Control Technologies Cat5 camera mount/transmitter/receiver kits to transfer all of the signals via Cat5 cable.

“The transmitter is at the camera site,” Conedera says. “It’s a two-gang plate that fits into a standard wall-mounted, two-gang box, and it has a bracket for the camera on it, as well as connections for the control, video, and power for the camera. You just hook up the camera to the connections on the plate, connect the Cat5 that comes out of the wall, screw the plate into the two-gang box, and you’re done.”

The single Cat5 cable carries the video signals to Extron MAV99V 8×8 composite video matrix switchers housed in Raxxess KAR 44-28 equipment racks in each courtroom. From there, the video signals can be routed to the videoconferencing codec in the central courtroom. The signal can also be routed to any of the displays in any of the three courtrooms.

Zoned audio

To support the courtrooms’ video systems with intelligible audio, PBS installed independent, mix/minus audio systems, which feed four zones in each courtroom for the judge, jury, attorneys, and gallery areas.

Each attorney table features Shure MX412D microphones, while the judge’s bench includes a Shure SM58 microphone. Additionally, each courtroom has an Electro-Voice RE2-L21 wireless lavalier microphone system available for attorneys who want to walk around the court while presenting their cases. All audio signals are fed into Ashly Audio P24.24M 12×12 digital audio mixers, and sent to the four zones via QSC CX-204V four-channel amplifiers.

To ensure that sidebars between the judge and attorneys remain confidential, PBS added an RDL ST-NG1 pink/white noise generator on one of the mixer’s inputs, so the sidebars can’t be picked up by the other audio zones. The judge activates the pink/white noise generator via a touchscreen control panel when necessary.

Next, PBS installed 14 Quam in-ceiling speakers in each courtroom, which provide audio for the four zones. The team also installed a translation booth, which is included in the same audio zone as the gallery. The booth includes its own volume control and microphone connected to the Ashly mixer and a dual-channel Williams WIRTX 900 hearing assistance system. Because the WIRTX 900 is a dual-channel system, it can be used for both simultaneous translation and hearing assistance.

Presenting the evidence

Another capability Sandoval County wanted to add to each courtroom was easily accessible evidence viewing. To ensure that the witnesses, jurors, judge, and gallery could easily review all of the evidence presented, PBS installed 13 Samsung 510N 15-inch LCD displays in each of the side courtrooms, 15 in the center courtroom, and an additional Mitsubishi MLM400 40-inch LCD display in the gallery in all three courtrooms.

Sandoval County judges view information on 15-inch Samsung 510N LCD displays mounted at the judge’s bench, and can control what’s displayed on LCD displays for the jury and gallery using a Creston TPS-3000 touchpanel.

Evidence can be sent to the displays from Samsung V4600 DVD/VCR players located in the equipment racks or Samsung SDP-900DXR document cameras installed in each courtroom. Lawyers can also present evidence from PowerPoint presentations or computer graphics from laptops connected to inputs at the attorney’s tables.

“With the previous system, if you had a photo of a traffic accident to enter into testimony, you’d have to let the judge see it before presenting it to the jurors to see if it could even be entered into evidence,” Ireland says. “Then, the jurors passed the photo from one to another. First of all, you don’t want the evidence being handled too much, and it’s time consuming. Now the attorneys can use the document camera to send the photo to the judge, who can review it quickly and then send it to the monitors.”

Using the Samsung document camera also enabled PBS to save money on the final AV budget. “The original spec called for 1280×1024 resolution document cameras, but since there was nothing in the rooms that could display that, we were able to replace them with XGA document cameras, which cost about 30 percent less than SXGA models,” Conedera says.

Video signals from the document cameras are fed into Extron 84HVA switchers in each of the courtrooms and are then sent to the displays. For computer signals and low-resolution video signals from the DVD/VCR player, the rack includes an Extron DVS-204 video scaler and a VSC500 scan converter.

Once the video is properly scaled and scanned, sending it to more than a dozen displays became the next challenge for PBS. To get the XGA and computer signals to the displays with the limited amount of conduit room, Conedera used five FSR MMTP-RGBTX Cat5 transmitters, seven FSR MMTP-RGBRX Cat5 receivers, and one FSR MMTP-HUB Cat5 video distribution hub in each courtroom to route video signals throughout the room.

Customized system control

To operate the new AV system, Sandoval County officials wanted a system that was user-friendly enough for judges to control without the need for an additional paid technical employee. PBS installed Crestron Pro2 control processors and Crestron TPS-3000 touchpanels at the judges’ benches, and added custom programming to the system to make it simple to navigate.

For More Information

The Crestron control systems are currently connected via Cresnet cabling, but that wasn’t always the plan. The original design called for Ethernet communication between the Crestron control processors, but didn’t include the necessary E-Net cards. To solve the problem, Conedera devised a master/slave solution to simplify communication between the systems. 

“We had the control program live on one of the processors, and the other two are slave units via Cresnet,” Conedera says. “This makes it a lot easier to program. You’re basically putting the same program on the processor three times. The touchpanels in the other courtrooms are running the same program.”

Each control system includes a Crestron CS2COM-3 RS232 expansion card, which allows the court to expand the number of RS232 ports on the processor. Each room also features a Crestron CNTBLOCK distribution block to distribute the Cresnet cabling. “There are a lot of control system devices in the equipment racks, and the distribution block gives you the ability to robustly distribute Cresnet without daisy-chaining everything together,” Conedera says.

The Crestron system ties all of the courtrooms together so they can share the single videoconferencing codec and control the AV systems in each room.

Paul Kramer is associate editor of Pro AV. He can be reached at [email protected]

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