New video system up and running

Users give RSW Regional Jail’s video conferencing positive reviews

By Joe Beck

Woodstock attorney Bradley Pollack describes himself as the biggest opponent of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, but the jail’s newly installed video conferencing system made a good first impression on him.

Pollack tried out the system Sept. 10 when he appeared in the Shenandoah County circuit courtroom in Woodstock while his client remained almost 30 miles away in the jail north of Front Royal. The defendant was able to see and hear everything and communicate through the equipment on his end of the connection.

“It worked out great,” Pollack said in an interview Wednesday. “My guy was going to be released and that saved us a trip back to RSW.”

Using the teleconferencing system will save defense attorneys and their clients a lot of time and stress, Pollack said. His client was able to gather up personal belongings and go through the release process without having to endure the round trip between the Woodstock courtroom and the jail.

The jail’s video equipment went into operation in the adult courts in Warren County on Aug. 26, Shenandoah County on Aug. 27 and Rappahannock County on Sept. 2. Efforts to install the system had bogged down over trouble getting cable into the RSW jail. The Virginia Supreme Court’s information technology department struggled with Verizon, the system provider, to get the equipment installed and working while inmates continued to be shuttled between the jail and distant courtrooms.

Russell Gilkison, the interim superintendent of the jail, said he has heard nothing positive or negative from defense attorneys or prosecutors since the video conferencing equipment was introduced.

“It’s being utilized and everything seems to be fine,” Gilkison said, adding, “as time passes, it’s being used more and more.”

Gilkison said he is still waiting for the video teleconferencing equipment necessary to open the magistrate’s office at the jail.

Pollack said he was especially pleased that the clerk of court and prosecutors in Shenandoah County are obtaining agreement from defense attorneys before deciding whether to hold a hearing by video.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden said he has “no complaints” about the system, although it won’t be used for trials, sentencings, pleadings or contested motions.

“It allows us to handle the minor matters, the preliminary matters, in a quick and expeditious manner,” Madden said.

Pollack said there are many times when attorneys and clients will still want to meet privately before, during or after a hearing.

“We still like to have our clients sitting next to us,” Pollack said.

John Bell, a defense attorney from Front Royal, said the system had worked “very well,” so far.

Conducting hearings by video means attorneys, prosecutors and judges don’t spend as much time waiting for prisoners to be transported from jail to courtroom. But attorneys must still meet with their clients, Bell said.

“It puts the onus on the attorneys to get out to the jail and discuss the case beforehand,” Bell said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com