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Brooklyn Family Court unveils new high-tech courtroom

December 22, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Pictured from left: Sheng Guo, chief technology officer at OCA; Dr. William Bell, chairman and CEO of Casey Family Programs; Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, administrative judge of the NYC Family Court; Hon. Lawrence Marks, chief administrative judge for NYS; and Edwina G. Mendelson, deputy chief administrative judge for the Justice Initiatives. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn’s Family Court unveiled a new state-of-the-art courtroom on Tuesday that incorporates technology in order to improve the court’s productivity and improve justice to children and their families by making it more efficient.

The courtroom is referred to as the Kings County Integrated Courtroom Technology (ICT) Part and it features cameras, screens and audio equipment setup for video conferencing and remote court interpreting. Evidence can also be shared remotely. Wi-Fi will now all be available in all of NYC’s Family Courts.

“Today is yet one more example of NYC Family Courts standing as one of the most innovative courts in our state and in the nation,” said Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks. “Family Court is our first paperless court in the state and is probably the largest paperless court in the country. What an achievement that was and now the court will further benefit from this cutting-edge technology.”

Marks was on hand for the unveiling of the courtroom along with Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives; Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, administrative judge for the NYC Family Courts; Michael McLoughlin, first deputy chief clerk for the NYC Family Courts; Dr. William Bell, chairman and CEO of Casey Family Programs; as well as Chip Mount and Sheng Guo, the director of court research and technology and the chief technology officer from the Office of Court Administration, respectively.

“Look at this courtroom; it is so beautiful, nice and neat. But if you look, there are cameras there and cameras there [pointing]. Everything is setup for video conferences,” said Guo, who helped implement the design of the courtroom. “There are even devices for people that are hearing impaired. Everything has been planned for and incorporated into the design because we wanted it to look and have the feel of a courtroom.”

This is not the first tech-heavy courtroom in NYC. However, those in charge of designing it say that past mistakes really allowed them to focus on using technology in a way that will directly assist the court. That is why there was a focus on video conferencing and the ability to do remote translations. The designers called this one of the most state-of-the-art courtrooms in the country.

“We have seen over the years high-tech courtrooms, built right in this very county and in NYC, and unfortunately these high-tech courtrooms simply did not work for the courts for which they were built,” said Mount. “We learned a lot from that. We learned that in order to build something that works you really have to talk to the folks who will be using it and get their guidance as to what will be useable and workable within their environment.”

The NYC Family Court system has undergone a series of technological changes over the past few years designed to improve the experience for nearly everyone involved in the process.

Over the past few years, the court’s records have been entirely switched over to digital, the largest court in the nation to be all digital. Documents are signed electronically. Digital copies of orders are available instantly to the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), and case records on appeal are delivered electronically to the Appellate Division.

There is also the introduction of the “Appointment Express” system, which allows litigants to schedule appointments and file petitions online. The “Do-It-Yourself” program allow certain cases to be initiated electronically.

“From enabling domestic violence survivors to petition the court for a temporary order of

protection from a remote, safe location to allowing incarcerated parents to participate in their

child’s permanency hearing via audio-visual means to facilitating the use of remote interpreting

services on behalf of litigants and witnesses with limited English proficiency, the new Brooklyn

ICT Part expands access to justice for children and families,” said Ruiz.

“This automation is overcoming barriers,” Dr. William Bell, whose organization Casey Family Programs helped pay for the ICT part in Brooklyn, said. “Barriers of language and barriers of location. Even though [someone] may be incarcerated, they can participate in a hearing about their child’s future. That is barrier that has far too long been nearly insurmountable. The fact is that we no longer have to bring people into this courtroom in chains in front of their children in order for them to have a say in their child’s life.”

There are currently over 20 ICT Parts in operation in New York City, Long Island and upstate. The court system is expected to roll out 20 more in the state within the next year.

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