Court system slashes costs

  • Tue Feb 2nd, 2010 7:48pm

By Mina Williams Enterprise editor

EDMONDS — A new video conference system now enables the Edmonds Municipal Court to double the number of cases heard while slashing the operational budget.

The remote audio-visual conferencing system links the court, in Edmonds, with a secure conference area at the county’s jail in Everett. On the court’s screen, three images are visible: one of Judge Douglas Fair, one of the prosecutor and one of the defendant at the Snohomish County Jail. One of camera’s eyes in the courtroom can be remotely adjusted to view the gallery, enabling defendants to see and hear anyone addressing the court.

The system became operational Jan. 21.

The benefits reaped of the system are three fold, according to Fair. It did not cost the city anything, it affords greater security and it will trim the operational budget. Additionally, the court’s productivity in hearing cases is boosted.

“Before using the system I only had one day a week on the hearing calendar, able to hear 10 cases,” Fair said. “Now I have two days and can hear 20 people. Without having to transport (people) from the jail we have also reduced our security and liability issues, eliminating the possibility of things happening in transit, from traffic accidents to escape attempts.”

From a fiscal sense the video court hearings eliminate the need to hire officers to assist in the transport of prisoners, equaling 11 hours per week of overtime pay. Officers at the jail escort and accompany defendants to the area where the video court hearing system is set up within the jail.

“It was cost prohibitive with the old system,” Fair said. “Adding that second day of hearings I’m able to double the amount of people I’m seeing. This reduces the jail population and enables a quick resolution of cases.”

Cost of the system, about $15,000, came from a state fund dedicated for projects to improve courts. Fair has also tapped that budget to reconfigure some entrances at the court to upgrade the facility.