It's business as usual in courtroom 8 on the top floor of the Lucas County courthouse as criminal defendants and civil complainants file before Common Pleas Court Judge Myron Duhart.
But while court proceedings continue on, there's a notable absence from the courtroom - the person responsible for creating the official record by typing every word spoken in court.
Recently outfitted with thousands of dollars in audio and video equipment, Judge Duhart's courtroom is the first in the courthouse to transition from a human court reporter to a digital one.
Presently, there are plans to install equipment in three additional courtrooms, although no timeline is in place.
"There are a lot of new and interesting and efficient ways to do things," said Judge Duhart, who is co-chairman of the court's technology committee. "I wanted to be involved in this to see if we could implement those things in this courthouse."
Court reporters are responsible for taking verbatim records of courtroom proceedings. Traditionally, the proceedings are documented by a person using a stenotype machine and later transcribed onto paper.
But as technology progressed, some courts have begun using sophisticated microphones and video equipment to capture what happens in the courtroom. If needed, the official record would then be transcribed by a person listening to the audio.
In Lucas County, the total cost of outfitting Judge Duhart's courtroom equaled $92,494.97, from the court's special budget fund. The price included not only microphones and cameras but also an evidence presentation system that will be available to lawyers and the ability to integrate with other courtrooms so witnesses and defendants do not have to be present to participate, the judge said.
Judge Duhart noted that in his courtroom, the equipment did not replace a job. Recent retirements decreased the court reporter staff from 11 to nine, meaning Judge Duhart - one of 10 general division judges - did not have a court reporter on staff.
"What better time to test it out. And we're still testing. There hasn't been a final decision on whether we'll go that way in the courthouse," he said. "I will evaluate the advantages and disadvantages and will report to my colleagues.
"We're just trying to move from the dinosaur age to the digital age," he added.
But some say that the transition to technology creates more problems than it solves. The National Court Reporters Association based in Vienna, Va., warns that although already widely used, electronic reporting is not as reliable as a live court reporter.
Jim Cudahy, senior director of marketing and communication for the association, said that courts seem to be moving to technology to "cut expenses in today's environment of budget scrutiny."
"What we see is that courts don't often have real information in their hands when they're making their decision with regards to savings," he said. "Obviously what the court is looking for is for every citizen to have access to the highest standard of justice. In cases when ... video fails, which we hear about all the time, it can cause a lot of problems."
A 2009 study commissioned by the California Court Reporters Association and conducted by a court management consulting firm, concluded that although on its face value digital recording was cheaper than a court reporter, additional costs associated with the technology resulted in more expenses.
The analysis reviewed courts in Florida and California and determined that digital recording was only more cost effective with court proceedings that had a low volume of transcripts and were "low impact" in terms of seriousness of the case. The report further concluded that costs such as hiring someone to create a transcript from a recording and for maintenance and network upgrades resulted in technology being more expensive.
"When you look at deposition taking, where the market is the freest, digital recording is not what they are doing," Mr. Cudahy added. "In the free market, when attorneys get to choose, they're going to chose a stenographer court reporter every time."
Judge Gene Zmuda, the court's administrative judge, emphasized that no court reporters would be dismissed to make way for technology and said that the judges respect the "excellent court reporter staff." He also noted that digital recording systems are being employed in other area courts. U.S. District Court in Toledo has utilized the system in its magistrate courtroom for several years while newer systems have been added in Juvenile Court and Toledo Municipal Court.
The judge said that unlike some courthouses where the recording system is not monitored, no courtroom proceedings will be recorded without a technician watching to ensure everything is working properly.
"We have fully vetted this," he said of the possibility of mechanical error. "With a technician monitoring the equipment and the input, [problems] are minimal at best."
The court hired an audio video technician to monitor the courtroom's recording system. According to court records, the starting salary of the technician is $32,301. The starting salary of a court reporter is $47,539.
Court Administrator Don Colby said that the systems were studied prior to purchase and that the court "learned from others' mistakes."
To help familiarize staff and lawyers with the new system, Judge Duhart said he hopes to hold an open house to demonstrate its uses and capabilities. No date has yet been set.
"I want to have everyone who is interested to come over and see its use," he said.
Contact Erica Blake at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.