CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some Wyoming courtrooms are in such dire need of technological upgrades that they don’t even have adequate microphones or enough electrical power.
But an increase in court automation fees approved by the state Legislature this year aims to change that.
Since July 1, people using Wyoming courts now have to pay $15 more in automation fees when filing in probate and civil matters in district court, filing civil matters in circuit court and filing petitions in the state Supreme Court.
They also pay a $25 fee, up from $20, if they have been found guilty in a criminal case or are placed on probation. Cities and towns across the state are now able to impose the increased fee for people found guilty of violating a local ordinance.
State agencies that are parties in a legal proceeding are exempt until July 2018.
The money will primarily help update audio and visual systems in 69 courtrooms across the state, said Wyoming Court Administrator Lily Sharpe. It will improve court technology such as evidence presentation, hearing assistance and microphones.
“We really do have a great deficit in our technology and computer automation at the court level,” said state Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, a Democrat from Sweetwater County who sits on the judiciary committee.
“Some courtrooms have nothing in them at all – some are back in the 1980s era,” she added.
A 2016 survey of all Wyoming courts found that 50 percent lacked adequate power, 80 percent have no digital capacity for videos and video conferencing, and 70 percent lack adequate audio systems, Sharpe said in an email.
The judicial branch recently created minimum audio and video standards for courtrooms, and they hope to make hardware improvements over five years, Sharpe said. It will cost about $7.4 for all the upgrades and maintenance.
The fee increase will likely generate about $1.4 million per year, although that estimate was calculated using a $20 automation fee. It’s unclear how much the state agency exemption in the first year will offset the $5 increase.
A $10 court automation fee was first imposed in 2000 to create a revenue source for technological improvements such as computer systems for managing cases in circuit and district court, Sharpe said.
But that money hasn’t been enough to keep up with demands for new technology in actual courtrooms. That’s largely because of the cost, Sharpe said.
“It is not uncommon for equipment and installation costs in one courtroom to exceed $100,000,” she wrote in an email.
Anselmi-Dalton voted in favor of the proposal earlier this year because she said she recognized the “heavy needs” for new technology.
“None of us like to raise fees,” she said. “But the needs were such that – and the court automation fees were so low – that I think it was necessary.”
Sharpe and the Judicial Branch also have other upgrades in the pipeline.
Some other projects include granting public access to some court records online and allowing electronic filing.
“We’re really excited about this,” Sharpe said. “All of these court automation and courtroom technology improvements are really wonderful for the public.”
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com