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Kane court administrators push for better court sound quality

GENEVA – Some Kane County judges and lawyers naturally speak more loudly and clearly than others, making it easier to understand what is happening.

But those who run the county’s courtrooms agree with those whose job it is to observe courtroom operations that, in the 21st century, the ability to hear what a judge, a lawyer or a witness is saying should not depend on the natural abilities of vocal projection of the courtroom participants.

And with that in mind, the county’s judges and court administrators have lent their voices to a push to dedicate money to improve the audio systems within the courtrooms at the Kane County Judicial Center.

“It’s a real concern for us, absolutely,” Kane County Court Administrator Doug Naughton said. “We agree that everyone should be able to hear what is happening in their courtrooms.”

Concerns were most recently raised by members of the Fox Valley Court Watch, a group of volunteers that monitors and critiques courtroom activities on behalf of crime victims, and particularly victims of domestic violence.

Fred Dresser, a representative from the group, addressed the Kane County Board on Oct. 8.

He said he and others with the Fox Valley Court Watch are increasingly frustrated with poor audio quality in several county courtrooms, and particularly those in which domestic violence proceedings are typically held.

“The unfortunate fact is, you just can’t hear what’s going on,” Dresser said. “A judge will be speaking with attorneys in front of his bench, and it’s just inaudible to those sitting in the audience.

“That’s not fair, especially to the victims, and it’s not what court is about.”

He said he believed “a Campbell’s soup can and a string” could produce better audio quality than the current system.

To reinforce his point, Dresser said Fox Valley Court Watch visited courthouses in several other counties and found Kane’s courtroom audio systems were decades behind.

“When the judicial center was built, these may have been state-of-the-art systems,” Dresser said. “But that was the 1990s – a long time ago.”

Naughton said the county is aware of the problem, and has solicited estimates to repair the issue. He said the county’s diagnostics have traced the problem back to substandard and obsolete circuit boards inside of the audio mixers.

“The problem is that the components break, and then we can’t find replacement parts,” Naughton said.

He said the county believes it would cost $5,000 to $6,000 a courtroom to upgrade the systems.

“The microphones, amplifiers and most other parts are fine,” Naughton said.

However, he said the county has not yet budgeted any funds for the work. And he said he does not know when or if it will. 

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