In 1988, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Stephens described the Kentucky Video Courts program thus: "In my entire experience as a lawyer and as a judge I know of no program which does more for the average litigant to reduce the delay and excessive costs of pursuing justice than our video court recording systems." Indeed, for before the innovative adoption of video technology by the Courts of Kentucky, the process of litigation could be very expensive and time-consuming.
For example, in 1984 a transcription of court proceedings, a required resource for any appellate motion, could cost the litigant $2-$3 per page and the production of the transcript could take between two and four months to complete. As the average trial in Kentucky lasts two days, the cost of a manuscript for this proceeding will be between $1,200, and $1,700. These costs, being beyond the resources of many of Kentucky's poorer citizens, created an inequity between the financially secure and the impoverished in their access to justice. If the litigant were indigent, these costs would then shift to the taxpayer. Kentucky's solution, the Kentucky Video Courts, provides an audio-video recording of the entire proceeding that is inherently more accurate than a court reporter's transcript and much cheaper and quicker to reproduce.
In the courtroom, the cameras and microphones are placed in unobtrusive areas, yet close to each relevant participant. The key to the system is the voice-activated sound mixer that turns on the microphone nearest to the speaker. Simultaneously with the activated microphone, a camera covering that portion of the courtroom is also activated. When the sound mixer picks up activity from more than one speaker, the video moves to a view of the entire room and the correct microphones are activated. The result is a remarkably clear and accurate, time-stamped video record of courtroom and chamber proceedings.
A reproduction of a typical proceeding's recording costs $15 per six-hour videocassette. In the average trial, the reproduction costs $30, a savings of at least $1170. Further, the system is automatic and retires the need for a court reporter, saving the state even more money.
Video technology had previously been attempted in other jurisdictions, but without success. In Tennessee and Ohio it failed due to several reasons: a lack of support from the appellate court, the required cost of installation, and the cost of the required operator.
Kentucky's system is different in that it runs automatically, without an operator--the savings in labor affords the installation of the system. Yet, officials in Kentucky report that the main reason the program has been so successful is that, from the beginning, they involved the appellate court. This involvement created a sense of ownership for the court and preempted the objections that the programs in Tennessee and Ohio could not endure.
Another positive benefit of the system is that it creates a new transparency of court proceedings. Judiciary officials and attorneys report that once the system was broadcast over local cable-access, a prevailingly positive public attitude emerged from exposure to the judicial process. Court proceedings are no longer an unknown mystery to Kentucky residents; they have become familiar and trustworthy proceedings. In the end, the Kentucky Video Courts program has made a great stride towards fair and transparent access to American justice.