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Old 01-18-2005, 05:28 PM
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Default 9th Judicial Circuit Heads Online

9th Judicial Circuit gets ready for online close-up
By Anthony Colarossi
Orlando Sentinel

January 18, 2005

Court-news junkies who miss the drama of daily trial coverage on Court TV when they go to work will soon have the opportunity to view live court coverage on their computers via the Internet.

One of the initial jurisdictions from which Court TV Extra will broadcast live court coverage online will be the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties, Court TV and local court officials say.

The subscription-based service will be similar to online products now offered by news and sports networks, working off a "Court TV anywhere concept," officials said.

It should also allow Court TV loyalists to choose from more than just the one high-profile case featured on the television network at any given time.

"We asked: How might we regionalize and show trials of local interest?" said Galen Jones, executive vice president, chief strategy officer for Court TV. "You want to be in as many good trials as you can. Online provides a perfect way to address those issues and be in multiple trials simultaneously."

Because of the advanced technological infrastructure built into the Orange County Courthouse and the relatively broad access to courtrooms enjoyed in Florida, Court TV officials decided to seek an ongoing agreement with judges in Orlando.

Basically, Court TV will request permission to broadcast certain trials like any other electronic media. Network officials have promised 9th Circuit judges that they will provide a camera and an individual to operate the camera in the courtroom.

Then they will transmit the court proceedings through a high-speed telephone line, such as DSL or a T-1 line. The content then will be broadcast online through streaming video at the Court TV Extra section of CourtTV.com.

The network has similar agreements with court systems in Las Vegas and Virginia. It is working on an agreement with a jurisdiction in Ohio, too.

Court TV's online technicians are working to set up their exclusive line running out of the downtown Orlando courthouse.

Jones hopes to have online broadcasts coming out of Orlando during the first quarter of this year and perhaps as soon as next month. The Court TV Extra fee is expected to cost users $5.95 per month, he said.

Court TV Extra has been operating in a test phase, and Jones acknowledged the service is still "in its teething stage."

"We certainly could be in a dozen courtrooms simultaneously," he said. "What I don't think we know is what the scope of the business is."

In any case, Jones said the online product "is part of our underlying mandate as a network to better serve our audience . . . We would want to be anywhere there are trials that are interesting and important in some way."

Court TV officials cautioned, however, that they don't intend to broadcast every court proceeding in the 9th Circuit.

Last year, some in the legal community, including Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar and Public Defender Robert Wesley, called for cameras to be turned on in circuit courtrooms as a way to monitor attorneys as well as judges.

Court TV.com editor-in-chief Jim Lyons said the new service will not provide an answer in that debate. The online service will merely tap the court system when it finds cases in which it thinks its audience will have an interest.

He said the target audience is the consumer -- Court TV watchers looking for more in-depth coverage -- and not necessarily the legal community.

Aside from live court coverage, the service also will offer "on demand" video clips of trial highlights, he said.

"We intend to webcast trials from all across the country," Lyons said. "What's different about Orlando is there are very few courthouses in the country that are as technologically sophisticated."

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Belvin Perry said judges discussed the Court TV plans earlier this month. He said the concept is permissible under Florida statutes and court rules, as long as Court TV follows procedures like other, local broadcasters.

Perry said he expects the Court TV people will honor the rules not to broadcast jurors' faces, identify sex-crime victims or show images of undercover agents.

Perry sees the potential for positives and negatives with the plan.

"It's not a good thing when people may see criminal cases [online] and feel Orlando is filled with a lot of violence," Perry said.

On the other hand, he added, it may be good for people to view more than just the short courtroom "sound bites" shown on local television news.

"While we have a public court system, I think we need to jealously look at how we use this new medium," Perry said. "This is where people come to bare their souls."

Anthony Colarossi can be reached

at acolarossi@orlandosentinel.com
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