Clearfield County Court System Gets Wired, Has First Proceeding

CLEARFIELD – Ondrea Spooner of DuBois is accused of endangering the welfare of a 2-year-old. The incident is alleged to have happened at about 9:30 a.m. on May 3 in DuBois when the child was missing and later found several blocks away.

On Friday morning, Spooner was finally arraigned on those charges, yet she never set foot into the Clearfield County Courthouse or any other official building for the proceeding.

During the arraignment, she learned of her rights and the charges against her, and through it all, she sat in a room about 150 miles away from the room where Clearfield County Court Administrator Daniel Nelson read the information.

Spooner became the first person to have a court proceeding via videoconferencing Friday morning. She was in the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs on other charges, Nelson in the Clearfield County Courthouse.

By law, Spooner had to have certain things read to her before her case can move through the court system, although she did not physically have to be present.

“It’s a fundamential criminal right,” Nelson said, adding, “there’s no reason we can’t be effective and efficient at what we do.”

The link-up was made possible through a large-volume connection on ISDN lines, which provide for a smooth transmission of both video and audio.

This proceeding alone helped to increase the court system’s efficiency.

Clearfield County Chief Deputy Sheriff Rob Snyder said that if the videoconference had not happened, two deputies would have had to make a six-hour round trip to transport Spooner for the 10-minute proceeding.

The set-up between SCI-Cambridge Springs and the courthouse is just one part of Clearfield’s recent upgrades, funded through grant money. The other portion will allow the county’s magisterial district judges to use laptops with integrated Web cams to arraign suspects from their offices or even their homes. Police departments are also in line for the technology, which could mean that those accused of a crime will not have to be transported across the county for late-night arraignments.

“That saves the police departments money,” Nelson said.

Clearfield County Commissioner Chairman Rex Read sat in on the arraignment, which came across the lines clearly and without interruption. Read said he was unsure of the amount of money this technology could save the county.

“It is going to be sizeable,” he said. “It will be interesting to track.”

There is a charge for using the ISDN lines, but those involved said it will be small when compared to salaries, gasoline, vehicle maintenance, etc.

Nelson said there are a large number of court proceedings that will likely be able to use the technology, noting that each of the county’s two judges have lists of cases that have about doubled in the past eight years.

On the civil side, Nelson said the system can be used for such evens divorce proceedings for those incarcerated.

As for Spooner, her case will now travel through to the next steps in the court system and eventually either to trial or to sentencing. In total, she faces one count each of endangering the welfare of a child, recklessly endangering another person and public drunkenness.

Nelson said there are benefits to those incarcerated as well.

For example, if Spooner was completing classes at SCI-Cambridge Springs, she likely would have had her studies interrupted to make the trip to Clearfield.

The state Department of Corrections has been proactive in securing similar technology at all institutions. All facilities now have the ability to remotely conference with entities that also have the systems.

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