Utah legislators weren't invited to Williamsburg to examine technological wizardry simply because of their engaging personalities.
The bottom line to technology in Utah's courts is, of course, the dollar - the taxpayer's dollar.While it would be neat for Utah to be the first state to install all available electronic gadgets to modernize courtrooms, progress has its price, says Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. And lawmakers must be convinced the technology would "reduce court costs and deliver speedy service in a legal system that, in general, moves too slowly."
An attorney, Hillyard was fascinated by demonstrations at the National Center for State Courts of hearings conducted via television screens and sophisticated, paperless computer information systems. He's convinced that technology ultimately saves - but it's a savings that has to be weighed against other government needs.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hillyard anticipates actively supporting legislation to fund pilot programs to test technology such as video arraignments, video-recorded court proceedings and computerized transcription.
"As the courts come to grips with the issue of costs, some tough decisions are going to have to be made. If the decision is that we can use video recordings that are more accurate and less expensive, and cameras can be placed in the courtroom without intrusion, then I think we will have to displace (court) reporters," he said.
While attorneys balk at the idea of working with a videotape, Hillyard said he'd be happy to try it. Access to courts would be increased because the videotape would be available the same day, without having to wait for a court reporter's notes to be transcribed. Delay in getting court transcripts particularly causes problems in death penalty cases, he said.
"The judiciary is an equal, third branch of government. We've gotten by for a number of years without our judges being properly equipped with staff and security. The courts need to keep pace."
Calling the "garbled transcript" of the Ralph LeRoy Menzies case "an egregious example of human error," Rep. Jerry Jensen, R-Salt Lake, feels the mistakes made by the court reporter are a "rare exception."
"I don't see any advantage in videotaping a trial, except in the case of this unfortunate example (Menzies). I prefer written transcripts to be on paper or on a computer screen."
Like Hillyard, he feels it's "reasonable" to ask the Legislature to put up the initial funds for pilot programs "to see how the technology works and work out the bugs," but ongoing costs should be absorbed through an increase in filing and user fees, he said.
"If television monitors were available in courtrooms statewide, even if I was charged $200 to use the technology from Salt Lake to connect with a St. George court, it would still save my client money. Taking a day out to travel to southern Utah would cost nearly $1,000."
Justice is the court's business. Any business improves productivity and maximizes use of personnel through appropriate technology, said Jensen.