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Morgan probate court goes high tech

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

Morgan County Probate Judge Greg Cain has brought technology to the bench with a state-of-the-art computer system that records each court proceeding and provides security for records.

Cain has a courtroom, chambers and a conference room in the old sheriff's office on the first floor of the courthouse. His main office, where people do probate business, remains on the second floor.

County maintenance employees renovated the space. When the furniture arrived two weeks ago, the judge started holding court there.

The main attraction is the judge's bench, where he works with a sophisticated computer system.

On a tour of the facility, Cain explained that a digital clock connection shows the time of any statement made during a proceeding.

If someone needs to hear what was said at a certain time, a button allows the judge to go to any part of the proceeding and play it back.

"There will be no question about what was said or who said it," Cain said.

"We're actually able to record and play back at the same time. When we play something back, it becomes a part of the records."

In addition, the system archives the proceedings for permanent record, Cain explained.

Digital surveillance is included in the system. Cain can monitor every room of his office on the second floor, including those where records are kept, as well as the courtroom and offices on the first floor.

"This provides security for our records," he said.

Cain said judges throughout the nation use the computer program.

"We've still got a lot of kinks to work out, but at some point lawyers will be able to request and get a CD of a proceeding at the end of the day."

The system also saves on costs for a court reporter.

"I'm not against court reporters by any means, and there may be some occasions where a court reporter will be needed, but basically we won't need one," Cain said.

Attorney Bingham Edwards said the system is helpful to lawyers and their clients.

"A lot of times in cases that last more than a few hours it becomes an issue of what a witness said," Edwards explained. In a lot of courts, you don't have a chance to go back and review that, unless you go through a court reporter. This system allows us not to have the additional expense of a court reporter. It's a savings for our clients, and it helps the judge in making correct decisions."

Total cost for the system was $11,188.

"For the last 35 years, we have gone from room to room in the courthouse trying probate cases from the basement to the fifth floor, Edwards said. "We never knew where we would be trying a case. It's a great improvement. It was needed for a long time, and it is going to be a real benefit to the people of the county."

Cain said he presides over an average of three hearings daily.

"When we set the docket, we set aside Tuesdays for hearing re-commitments at North Alabama Regional Hospital, which services 18 or 19 counties in North Alabama, and we do all those hearings."

He said when he's not doing the hospital hearings, he presides over Morgan commitment hearings at the courthouse.

Since becoming probate judge in January, Cain has held two public meetings to get ideas from residents and attorneys about what they want in the probate office.

"We're beginning to implement some of the things now," Cain said. "I have a national probate court standards manual that I plan to go through with the staff to make sure we meet or exceed every standard. We probably already do but we want to make sure."

County Commission Chairman John Glasscock, who got the maintenance department to renovate the sheriff's office for Cain's new courtroom and quarters, said it saved thousands.

"I think it was a wise use of space, and I think Judge Cain has done an outstanding job of decorating it," said Glasscock. "It's something everyone can be proud of."

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