The system will provide a wireless linkup between the courthouse and the jail.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Real-life courtroom drama on the small screen is coming soon to the Mahoning County Courthouse. The stories will be true; no names will be changed to protect the innocent.
Common pleas court judges have state-of-the-art video arraignment equipment available to them, and they should start using it early next year, said Robert Rupeka, court administrator.
"We've still got a couple minor details to work out," he said. "Otherwise, the equipment is here and ready to go."
How it works: With video arraignment, inmates are taken to a small courtroom in the county jail, where they sit in front of a television camera that is linked to a video monitor in a courtroom where the judge sits. The judge is also on camera and is visible to the inmate on a monitor at the jail.
The procedure is already being used in Youngstown Municipal Court and is being implemented in the county's area courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring.
The common pleas setup will be different, though, because it is wireless, so it does not use standard cables and wiring. Judges insisted on the wireless system because they did not want to compromise the historical and architectural beauty of the courthouse by having wires and conduits run throughout the building.
The equipment will be kept on rolling carts, eliminating the need to have video monitors permanently installed in courtrooms. When not in use, the carts will be kept out of sight.
Test run: The system, which also links the common pleas court with the area courts, was successfully tested last month, Rupeka said. Some judges, though, don't intend to use the technology once it's installed and staff is trained.
"I'm not interested," said Judge R. Scott Krichbaum. He said arraignment is a "critical proceeding" in felony cases and the defendant should be present in court with the judge and lawyers.
Judge James C. Evans said he's excited about the prospects of arraigning inmates via the video setup because it will improve safety in cases where a particularly dangerous inmate must be arraigned. It could also bring about savings by not having to transport as many inmates from the jail to the courthouse.
"It will create a much more efficient system," Judge Evans said. "I don't see any problem with it."
Not sure: Judge Jack Durkin said he's taking a wait-and-see attitude before deciding. He'll test the system to ensure the constitutional rights of all involved are protected. If they are, he has no objection to the system.
Judges Robert Lisotto and Maureen A. Cronin could not be reached to comment.