Installation of courtroom video equipment begins

JACKSON -- Technicians on Tuesday began installing cameras and equipment to allow oral arguments before the Mississippi Supreme Court to be broadcast on the Internet.

Internet broadcast is expected to begin during the first week of April, said Michael Jones, information systems director for the state court system. The work, to be done in two phases, is expected to be completed by March 30. Technicians will install equipment in the third floor courtroom at the Gartin Justice Building March 6-9.

"This is a first," Jones said. No other state agency in Mississippi makes its proceedings available for viewing live on the Internet.

Broadcast media will also have access to video connections in the lobby outside the third floor courtroom. Five separate portals will allow broadcast media to capture the video recorded by two cameras inside the courtroom, Jones said.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman said the Internet availability of oral arguments will benefit the general public as well as lawyers and judges.

"They can watch and hear and know what happens at the Supreme Court," Pittman said.

Pittman said cameras on Supreme Court oral arguments will be educational and will promote accountability.

"We have to assure the people of this state that the judicial system is fair to every man, woman or child that has a need in this court," Pittman said.

A wide angle camera will be trained on the nine members of the Court and a second camera will record attorneys at the podium. The cameras are voice-activated, but can be controlled manually by a bailiff.

The system also includes capability for video conferencing from a remote location. That portion of the system will be developed later.

The Internet broadcast will be live. While the Court may allow rebroadcast at specific times yet to be determined, the material will not be archived for later retrieval via Internet access, Jones said.

The project will cost $55,610, Jones said. Jefferson Audio and Video of Louisville, Ky., is the contractor. The company, which has a long history of designing and installing courtroom video systems, was selected from four bidders for the project.

Internet access will be available on the Supreme Court web site at courts.ms.gov.

Further details about the video equipment and its installation are available on the web site. Click on the "NEWS" icon then go to "Request for Proposal, Courtroom Audio/Video."

Cameras in the courtroom are limited to the Supreme Court. The state's trial courts operate under Canon 3 of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits cameras in the courtroom.

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, public information officer for the state court system, at 601-354-7452.