Montgomery County, TN – On February 11th, 2021, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Katy Olita, with permission from the Tennessee Supreme Court, hosted the first 19th Judicial District circuit court civil trial using a virtual/in-person hybrid process.
The new technology used for the trial was recently obtained in Montgomery County through funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The Montgomery County’s Information Technology (IT) team worked tirelessly through the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic to seek opportunities for the courts to continue operating safely with the use of technology.
When federal funds for technology were made available to the county in the late fall of 2020, IT Director Skip Burchett and his team worked with County leaders to determine how to use the funds to maximize services to the public in County facilities and from remote locations.
Recently, the County obtained a number of large Cisco WebEx audiovisual boards that are mounted on wheeled bases. Each courtroom has a board of its own with a dedicated WebEx address. This technology allows for the participation of litigants and witnesses who are otherwise unable to attend in person.
“In the case before me yesterday, one participant was incarcerated in another city and two participants were located in Mexico. This case required the use of foreign language interpreters, so I sought permission from the Tennessee Supreme Court to allow the remaining participants and interpreters to be present in the courtroom under strict COVID safety protocols,” stated Judge Olita.
Currently, in-person court proceedings are suspended except for certain matters or if permission is obtained from the Supreme Court. The boards are an all-in-one, integrated system that’s easy to use and manage. The virtual participants were able to quickly logon through the dedicated WebEx address. When they finished giving testimony, they simply logged out of the meeting. The board’s smart technology detects and switches between active speakers to provide an ideal video image.
“Because Montgomery County has provided this technology, I was able to move this case forward quickly under challenging logistical circumstances. I am grateful to our IT Department for their diligence in bringing technology into the courtroom. The board will enable the courts to continue serving the residents of Montgomery County in a safe and efficient manner. In non-COVID times, this technology will allow courts to have appropriate safeguards in place for those who have shown good cause for needing to give testimony virtually,” added Judge Olita.