Many court users can now have their day in court without coming to the courthouse. Courts across the Commonwealth are discovering innovative ways to use video conferencing technology to conduct business more efficiently. Case in point: the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC).

Under the leadership of Clerk-Magistrate Daniel Hogan, and with the support of BMC Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo and First Justice Thomas Horgan, the BMC’s Central Division has found video conferencing to be an effective way to conduct hearings for motor vehicle violations, show cause, and small claims. The BMC also connects by video conference with the Suffolk County jail, as well as state and federal prisons to conduct speedy trial motions and default and warrant removal hearings.

“The use of video conferencing has grown exponentially at the BMC over the past year or so,” says Clerk-Magistrate Hogan. “Many thousands of people pass through the City of Boston each day, some of whom receive CMVIs (Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions). You get one shot to have your hearing, but if you can’t take time off from work, or if you’re from out of state, it can be difficult to have your day in court. Video conferencing creates that venue and improves accessibility all around. The technology is a win-win for the courts and those we serve.”

“Organization and punctuality are key,” says BMC Central Assistant Clerk Magistrate Kathy Noons, who has run this pilot program since October 2016. She was familiar with video conferencing, having used it as a Superior Court Clerk with the Department of Corrections. On a typical CMVI day, she schedules 12-15 hearings that last 15 minutes each, and arranges for law enforcement to be present in the courtroom as needed for each case. She connects with potential video conference users via email.

“By giving people the opportunity to have a hearing by video, they’re allowed to have their say in court,” say Clerk Noons, who has conducted hearings with people as far away as California and Lebanon. “The session is conducted exactly as if someone had come into the courthouse in person.”

“Video conferencing offers the same benefits that a personal appearance would have brought,” court user Jack Kay recently wrote in an email to Clerk Noons. Mr. Kay estimated that his hearing by video conference saved him three hours in travel time to and from the court and $30 in related expenses.

“Guilty or innocent, this brings the court into the 21st century and I thank you so much for this program,” he added.

The Trial Court has quickly adopted its use of video conferencing technology over the past two years, with more than 4,200 events conducted by video conference in 2015 and nearly 12,000 events in over 60 courts in 2016.

Video conferencing helps to reduce costs and address safety concerns and delays associated with transporting prisoners and detainees. Video conferencing also improves case management efficiency through technology, while safeguarding individual access to justice and due process rights.

The courts increasingly rely on video conferencing for non-evidentiary proceedings such as bail reviews, as well as pretrial hearings, discovery compliance, speedy trial requests, and default and warrant removal hearings. Outside of the courtroom, video conferencing is also used for cross-departmental meetings and training.

What’s next? The BMC plans to expand its use of video conferencing to sessions in other divisions in 2017, as well as job interviews.  

Get the numbers behind the story. See the latest stats for weekly video conference use across the court system here:  http://trialcourtweb/stats/video-conferencing.pdf (available from Trial Court computers only).

Best Practices from BMC Central

Thinking about starting a video conferencing pilot at your court? Take a look at these materials…

BMC Central Video Conferencing Team

First Justice Thomas Horgan

Assistant Clerk Magistrate Kathy Noons

Assistant Chief Probation Officer Tracy Connon

Assistant District Attorney Tony Rizzo

Court Officer Tom Donovan

Boston Police: Sargent Steven Downs, Officers Deirdre Pinkham, Robert DiRienzo, Patrick Russell

State Trooper Donald McPhee

Attorneys Richard Noone and Thomas Glynn

Suffolk County House of Correction Assistant Deputy Superintendent Joseph Casey

Department of Correction Video Conference Coordinator Joseph McGreevy

Technical assistance provided by Video Conferencing/AV Specialist Pedro Vargas