SWEETWATER COUNTY — The State of Wyoming is dedicating Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to upgrade the technology in courtrooms across the state, including the Sweetwater County 3rd Judicial District Court.
The funds will pay for the addition of outlets, televisions, hotspots, and more in the courtrooms to better conduct court amid the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, as well as into the future.
The only thing the state is not currently paying for is the cost to get the power into the courtrooms. Gene Legerski, Sweetwater County Public Works Director, told the Sweetwater County Commissioners on Tuesday that the county currently has the budget to pay for the power. However, Legerski said he may need to come to the commissioners in early 2021 for a budget amendment if the state does not pay the county back for these costs, depending the county’s budget for projects.
Judge Richard Lavery said the funding for the upgrades came as a surprise. He believes the funding for these upgrades became available due to many agencies around the state struggling to spend CARES Act money within the restrictions by the end of the year.
However, he said the upgrades in technology are necessary, and without the COVID-19 funds, they would be seeking funds in coming years for this exact technology.
“This allowed the court to kind of implement some planning that had been going on, pre-COVID, to get some technology into the courtrooms,” Judge Lavery said.
Some of the technology that will be added to Judge Lavery’s courtroom includes:
- An 80-inch monitor above the bench.
- Two 20-inch monitors along the side that will swivel 180 degrees so the audience and jury can see.
- A 20-inch monitor on every counsel table, bench, Sweetwater County Clerk of District Court desk, and witness stand.
- Two microphones on each table and wireless microphones.
“It’s going to be incredible what we’re going to be able to do in the courtroom,” Judge Lavery said.
He noted that jury trials started back up in Sweetwater County on August 1, and that they’ve had to adjust quite a bit to allow those proceedings to take place. They have to place the jury in the audience so they can be six-feet apart, masks have to be worn, and the witness sits in the jury box. The jury deliberates in the other courtroom rather than the jury room to allow for social distancing.
“It’s quite the trick,” Judge Lavery said.
Judge Suzannah Robinson added that it’s been a task to do side bars during jury trials, in which the attorneys and judge discuss matters out of the presence of the jury.
“The technology will help solve some of those problems so it really will be a true blessing to have some of this technology come in, and it certainly will help with some of the issues we are having due to COVID,” Judge Robinson said.
Chairman Randy Wendling spoke in favor of the upgrades, saying that the work the District Court judges do for the residents of Sweetwater County is important enough to pay for the power to reach the courtrooms.
“I don’t think we want to let a little electricity get in the way of taking care of what needs to be done for our citizens,” Wendling said.
Judge Lavery also thanked the the Sweetwater County workers for sanitizing the courtrooms and helping to ensure court can take place.
“There are courts around the state where their counties are not helping and they’re not having jury trials, they’re not serving their citizens,” Judge Lavery said. “So kudos to Sweetwater County for helping us with that.”
Sweetwater County Commissioners Meeting Room Upgrades
Legerski also gave an update on the Sweetwater County Commissioners meeting room upgrades on Tuesday, which were initiated due to COVID-19.
To allow for more space for social distancing, and more attendees in the future, all but one commissioner office will be moved from the hallway adjacent to the meeting room. This will make it so the meeting room can be expanded more.
Legerski’s goal is to have all of the changes and upgrades made to the meeting room, and have all the commissioners’ offices moved by around Thanksgiving. That way, the county can have the receipts lined up to get the CARES Act funding to pay for the changes to meet the end of the year deadline.