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Prisoners make history with court appearance
Prisoners make history with court appearance

Duo goes before Justice Court by way of closed-circuit video hookup

David Michael Williams and Bryon Like made Missoula court history Wednesday afternoon.

They were the first prisoners to make appearances before Justice Court via a closed-circuit interactive video hookup between the Missoula County Detention Facility and the county courthouse, according to Michelle Burchett of U S West.

Justice Karen Orzech at the courthouse and the two men at the jail - Williams charged with escape and Like charged with partner or family-member assault - were positioned in front of a 25-inch television that transmits a digital signal with an attached camera between the two locations.

Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan, who was representing the state, Justice John Odlin and members of his staff observed the initial appearance, which went off without a hitch. The sound and picture were clear but the two appearances took almost 15 minutes, much longer than usual.

"Is that because of the television," asked Orzech of the observers, "or could it be that we had a different kind of defendant today?"

Both of the accused men asked numerous questions during the proceedings, which extended the length of their initial appearances. Orzech wondered if prisoners will feel more comfortable asking questions to a television rather than facing a judge in person.

The two setups at the Detention Facility, another in Municipal Court at City Hall and two in the courthouse cost about $89,000, she said. Cascade County uses such a system, and some video arraignments also have been done in Yellowstone County, according to Burchett.

Wednesday was just a test run, said Orzech, but soon all initial court appearances will be done via video.

Since the Missoula County Jail was relocated from downtown to the new quarters on Mullan Road last November, prisoners have been ferried several miles between the two sites, prompting concern about the additional cost of transportation, the time involved and security measures.

"I think it's going to work," said Orzech, adding that she plans only to do initial appearances via video, not sentencings. "I think it's going to be very beneficial."

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