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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2009

Sylvania Municipal Court opts for use of video links

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania Municipal Court soon will be joining the ranks of Toledo-area courts that conduct arraignments and other routine proceedings using video links, so the accused don't have to be transported to the courthouse.

Sylvania City Council last week approved a $18,567 contract with Wide-Area Media, LLC, to install data connections, provide one of two cameras, and otherwise ready the courthouse for two-way video links with the Lucas County Jail and the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio.

Michael Tansey, the city's director of information technology, said the potential savings from not having to transport prisoners for the proceedings to be conducted by teleconference in the future remains to be calculated, but Mayor Craig Stough told council he expects it to account for a significant chunk of the $17,000 the city spends on prisoner transportation.

For Sylvania Municipal Court Judge M. Scott Ramey, the primary benefit will be in security, though cost reduction and improved courthouse "time management" should also result.

"We won't have to transport prisoners we consider high-risk, which we do get from time to time," the judge said.

The security benefit also was mentioned during city council's discussion, to the satisfaction of council member Doug Haynam.

"This is a good idea, for lots of reasons in addition to the fact it's cheaper," Mr. Haynam said.

Sylvania Municipal Court handles cases from Sylvania, Sylvania Township, and Holland, along with those brought in by the Lucas County Sheriff's Office from adjoining townships.

Mr. Tansey said Lucas County will provide a television, cart, and one camera for the municipal-court hookup, though the camera is a refurbished model with no warranty.

Judge Ramey required a second camera be obtained so that teleconferences can be held in the court's jury room as well as in the courtroom, Mr. Tansey said. The jury room will get the county-provided, refurbished camera while the new one from Wide-Area Media will go in the courtroom, he said.

When prisoners are delivered to the courthouse now, Judge Ramey said, other proceedings generally are deferred so those prisoners' cases can be expedited, thus getting them in and out and back to jail as quickly as possible. Conducting arraignments and similar proceedings by video will allow some greater scheduling flexibility, which should help the lawyers as well as court personnel, he said.

"There are other courts using the system, so we won't have it whenever we want, but certainly there'll be more flexibility than what we have now," the judge said.

Detained defendants still will appear in person for trials and other major proceedings, but along with arraignments, pre-sentencing interviews and various conferences will be suitable for teleconferencing, Judge Ramey said.

Lucas County Common Pleas Court began video arraignments in December, while the municipal courts in Maumee and Oregon have conducted arraignments for those in custody at the county jail for several years.

The common pleas court also has used the system for hearings involving inmates incarcerated in state prisons, and Judge Ramey said he hopes to have that capability in the future for his court, too.



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