Clerk: Electronic upgrade needed for tech-poor Beaufort County Courthouse

astice@islandpacket.comJune 21, 2013 

Construction workers put the finishing touches on the brick on the outside of the Beaufort County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon in Beaufort. If her budget request is approved, Clerk of Court Jerri Roseneau hopes to install new technology in the courthouse by the time exterior renovations are completed in the fall.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

If you ask Clerk of Court Jerri Roseneau about the technology available in Beaufort County courtrooms, she has a simple response.

There isn't any.

All five courtrooms in the Beaufort County Courthouse share one television that can be wheeled in on a rolling cart and one projector screen that is stored in a closet, she said.

Area prosecutors and defense attorneys agree with her assessment, saying they have long been used to bringing their own equipment for presenting evidence to a judge and jury.

But that could change if Roseneau's one-time funding request for technology upgrades is approved Monday when the Beaufort County Council votes on the county budget.

About $140,000 of the clerk's $1 million budget request would go toward buying and installing flat-screen TVs, projectors, speakers and microphones in each courtroom.

Roseneau said the current method of equipping both the Family Court and Circuit Court rooms with technology needed during a trial is "really quite an ordeal." Attorneys typically must bring in their own, she said.

"If they want to use (equipment) in the courtroom, they have to come the week before to set it up," she said.

Defense attorney Jared Newman said his paralegal has gotten used to loading up a projector, power cords and other bulky equipment when he has a case at the courthouse. Other nearby courthouses, including in Jasper County, already have monitors that face the judge and jury, he said. Lawyers can hook up their laptop computers to the monitors from their tables to show side shows and documents.

Solicitor Duffie Stone of the 14th Judicial Circuit said he and his team have learned to "work around the fact that there wasn't any permanent technology in the courthouse." They have purchased smart boards, which are interactive devices that can project images onto a screen, and other equipment in recent years.

"It is crucial to get information to the jury in a way they can see it," Stone said.

County Councilman Tabor Vaux, also a lawyer, said all parties during a trial need to see photographs and video, and hear audio tapes of an interview. But he says judges have had to delay proceedings while waiting for the lone TV on a roller cart.

"Everybody expects to see things visually, and photos and video really help the jury understand what you're trying to prove," he said. "I hope the (funding request) passes, and I certainly support it."

Newman said equipping the courtrooms with new technology would allow lawyers to submit evidence in the form of a thumb drive or a disc -- instead of stacks of photographs, for example -- saving storage space and time for courthouse clerks.

Roseneau said that if County Council approves the request, she plans to have the equipment purchased and installed by the time courthouse renovations are completed in the fall.

The county launched a $13 million renovation at the courthouse last year to fix faulty stucco. The project also involves closing a walkway and replacing the facade, roof, doors and windows. When it's finished, the building will have about 8,800 square feet of new office space.

County spokeswoman Joy Nelson said county administrators and officials support Roseneau's request to have technology in place by the time the building improvements are completed.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.

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