Jackson County to get computerized evidence presentation equipment

Aug. 14, 2002

Jackson County Circuit Court was approved this week to receive electronic evidence presentation equipment through a grant program designed to aid jurors and make trial presentations more efficient.

Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson of Pascagoula said she has long wished for the equipment, which will be a tremendous aid in presenting evidence in complex litigation such as mass tort cases.

"I'm thrilled," Jackson said Wednesday.

Jackson County's heavy docket of complex cases was a factor in selecting it as one of seven sites to receive the equipment, said Supreme Court Justice James W. Smith Jr., chairman of the Supreme Court's Computer Committee.

"It's important especially with your large litigation type cases, such as asbestos cases where there are multiple parties involved," Smith said. The electronic equipment "speeds up the introduction of volumes and volumes of evidence."

With the new equipment, jurors will be able to see documents, photos and other evidence displayed on a large screen. The display system eliminates the need to pass copies of documents or photos around to the entire jury panel. Features of the system allow a witness or attorney to highlight text in documents or draw on documents or photos.

Smith said, "It expeditiously allows the introduction of evidence. Seeing it all at one time and being able to talk about it is just a tremendous advantage in introduction of evidence."

Lawyers can plug their own computers into the courtroom system. Boxes of documents can be loaded onto computer disks for quick retrieval and display.

Audio and video evidence may be played on a VCR, a computer CD player or an audio cassette player, with all the equipment tied into one system.

Jackson County Circuit Court is the seventh in the state to get the electronic evidence display equipment under a federal grant program. The program is 75 percent federal dollars matched by 25 percent from the Administrative Office of Courts. The grant is administered by the state Department of Public Safety Division of Public Safety Planning.

Equipping the Jackson County Circuit Court is expected to cost $42,878, said Kevin Lackey, acting director of the Administrative Office of Courts. A date is not set to begin work.

Harrison County Circuit Judge Stephen B. Simpson got electronic evidence display equipment in his Gulfport courtroom in February 2002 under the same program. Circuit courts in Coahoma, DeSoto, Jefferson, Lee and Rankin counties in recent months also received electronic evidence presentation systems through the grant program.

The Supreme Court Computer Committee in making its selections of courts to receive the equipment looked at a combination of case volume, trial judges' desire to have the equipment and geographic distribution around the state, according to Computer Committee members.

Computer Committee member James E. Graves Jr. said, "The committee has a limited amount of funds. We've tried to look at the circuit courts that have the most caseload and the highest activity and allocate on that basis, with some concerns given to geography. We like to see them placed strategically throughout the state in areas where there is the most activity."

Smith said, "We are looking at judges who express excitement and keen interest in this type of system....If you've got judges who are going to push the use of the system, it's going to be used."

Jackson said she expects to use the equipment in every trial, criminal and civil.

"In the big scheme of things in a trial, we spend a significant amount of time sitting there waiting for a jury to look at things or to read something or pass it from hand to hand," Jackson said.

"If you cut down a few hours in each trial that goes a week, that often times means you can cut off a whole day," Jackson said. "When you are talking about a sequestered jury, you are talking about a whole bunch of money."

Jackson first used an electronic evidence display system in 1993 during an asbestos injury trial that lasted more than four months. The lawyers during that trial rented the equipment and hired a production company, she said. Without the equipment to expedite presentation of voluminous documents, the trial could have lasted months longer, she said.

Jackson said she has wanted such a system for the courthouse ever since that first introduction, but it cost too much.

Graves got an electronic evidence presentation system for his courtroom in Hinds County in February 2000 when he was a circuit judge. The Hinds County system was paid for by the Hinds County Law Library Committee with funds generated by a special assessment included in court filing fees.

Graves said every trial in his court after that used the equipment to some extent. "It is most useful just in the presentation of documentary evidence to a jury and then in highlighting portions of opening statements and closing arguments," Graves said.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, also a member of the Computer Committee, said, "The judges I have talked to said it's simple to use for the attorneys and the judges, and once everyone is familiar with it, it really aids in the process of the trial."

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