In the main courtroom of the Columbia County Justice Center, there's more to the dark wood podium than meets the eye.
Just by flicking a few switches and pulling out a cart, a multimedia world opens.
"You talk about state-of-the-art," said Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett. "This is the state-of-the-art. No one else I know of has this type of technology in a state level court."
Hidden within the podium is ELMO - a system that can broadcast pictures, X-rays, computer presentation, audio and video throughout the courtroom. In the jury box there are seven flat-screen monitors, another at the judge's bench, one for prosecutors, one for defense lawyers, one for the clerk of court and two large plasma screens for the gallery - all linked to ELMO.
Plus, there's a touch-screen monitor in the witness box, where witnesses can highlight an item on the screen.
"The new technology is state of the art," said District Attorney Danny Craig. "It provides us with the ability to use every available audio and visual medium in our presentations, so that jurors can better understand all the facts of every case, perfecting their search for the truth."
Craig recently used a computer presentation during a murder trial. He said the new technology can be daunting, but it's for the benefit of the legal process.
"Unquestionably, the new technology will make us more efficient, and will make the trial more enjoyable for all - the judge, the lawyers and the jury," he said. "The learning curve shouldn't be cumbersome. I had no difficulty using the equipment and I'd say I'm below average, technologically."
The technology also helps the judge maintain control in the courtroom. From his seat, the judge can control every bit of it - from turning down the volume of the house speakers for private conversations with lawyers to cutting on the jurors' video screens while he decides if a piece of evidence is admissible.
"You want the judge to be in control of the courtroom," Padgett said. "You don't want someone putting something on the ELMO that could potentially poison a juror."
The ELMO is just part of the technological advancements in the Columbia County Justice Center. There's a central security control room, where staffers can monitor - by audio and video - nearly every part of the building.
In the basement, there's a central control room where one employee can monitor several cells that hold prisoners awaiting trial. In the control room, a couple of monitors show the fenced yard outside, where prisoners are brought in. With the flick of a joystick, a staff member can rotate and zoom the outside camera.
But it is the ELMO system that keeps getting rave reviews.
"We probably have the top technology system, as far as evidence presentation goes, in the state," said Superior Court Judge Robert L. Allgood. "It has greatly increased the facilitation of justice."
Craig said the technological advances at the Judicial Center will usher in changes to the way trials are conducted.
"The new technology, along with the continuing education that citizens receive from television, will heighten the expectations of jurors regarding courtroom presentations," he said. "It will forever change the three main components of the trial - the message, the messenger and the audience. And the net result will be better presentations and a more perfect concept of due process."
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