By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Some new technology is helping speed up the judicial process in Missouri's 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes Marion, Ralls and Monroe counties.
In late July, video conference equipment was installed in each of the four courthouses in the district. That equipment now provides a link to courthouses and jails throughout Missouri, which allows prisoners to make court appearances without having to physically to go court.
"I'm very excited about the opportunities that it provides," said Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd, presiding judge for the circuit. "We are finding more and more ways to use it. We want to keep cases moving and make sure they aren't being unnecessarily delayed."
Missouri's Office of State Courts Administrator helped Bringer Shepherd acquire the equipment needed to connect courtrooms in Hannibal, Paris, New London and Palmyra. Bringer Shepherd first heard about the possibility of getting the equipment during a seminar she attended last fall. She put in a request for the equipment and software with the OSCA, and she found out late this spring that her circuit would receive what it needed to get connected.
The system made its debut Aug. 1 as Bringer Shepherd sat in the Monroe County Courthouse in Paris and conducted a hearing with inmates lodged in the Randolph County Jail in Moberly. She said that the system is being used a couple of times a month.
Systems in each courthouse are connected to the secure computer network of the Missouri Supreme Court. Video appearances aren't new in Hannibal. For several years, Bringer Shepherd has been able to have video conferences with inmates being lodged at the Marion County Jail.
Having the equipment in each of the circuit's courtrooms helps save counties money that it would take to transport inmates. Bringer Shepherd said the system is also better for the inmates.
"Any time you transport inmates there are always issues about their own safety and security," she said. "Sometimes people might try to pass them contraband. It can be a very stressful time for them, and they don't make good choices at times."
Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Redington is a proponent of the system.
"The new video-conferencing equipment not only saves travel time for the judge, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys, but also saves time and money for the Marion County sheriff, in that he and his deputies used to spend hundreds of hours a year transporting prisoners for court appearances all over Northeast Missouri (because of changes of venue)," Redington said.
"Now, those prisoners can stay, securely, in the Marion County Jail, and still appear in court. I am always in favor of using new technology to keep the community safe and save tax dollars at the same time."
Bringer Shepherd said she has been able to have court appearances with Missouri Department of Corrections inmates since all MDOC facilities are also connected to the network. She also has been able to conference once with a prisoner in an Illinois prison.
Bringer Shepherd said the system has been well received by all involved in the process.
"Law enforcement has been very receptive about it," she said. "It's been a team effort. Our defense attorneys have worked with their clients to make sure they are prepared for the video hearings."