Originally created 09/21/04

Columbia court gets high-tech makeover



COLUMBIA - Every word spoken in the courtroom where Branden Basham is on trial for his life appears immediately before U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson on a computer screen.

Mr. Basham, accused in the 2002 abduction and death of Alice Donovan of Galivants Ferry, is having his case heard in one of three E-courtrooms in the new Matthew J. Perry Jr. Federal Courthouse.

There are seven such courtrooms in South Carolina, three in Columbia and at least one in federal courthouses in Florence, Greenville and Charleston.

Lawyers say the courtrooms help reduce trial time by making the display of evidence and tracking of documents more efficient.

Advanced courtroom technology has been gaining acceptance with federal judges since the mid-1990s, according to a 1997 survey of judges. The survey by the Administration Office Electronic Courtroom Project indicated that 80 percent of judges had experienced or planned to use the newest technology.

The electronic courtroom in Columbia includes monitors in the jury box, one between every two seats.

There is also a witness-box monitor with touch-screen features and large-screen monitors for public viewing.

"It made the Chadrick Fulks' case three to five days shorter," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Schools, referring to Mr. Basham's co-defendant.

Mr. Fulks pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death.

Lawyers estimate Mr. Basham's trial will last as long as six weeks. Mr. Schools said it would be longer without the courtroom technology. Jack Swerling, one of Mr. Basham's lawyers, has found no drawbacks with the electronic setup.

Defense lawyers, prosecutors and Judge Anderson use the courtroom's real-time transcription feature to receive a printed version of the trial as it's being recorded by the court reporter.

The greatest timesaving feature is the evidence presentation system with the video monitors, Mr. Schools said.

Before the system was installed, lawyers had to show evidence to witnesses, then carry it over to jurors, he said.