Justin Beardsley’s unique position saves the federal court’s time — and saves taxpayer money, too
Sept. 29, 2023 - Justin Beardsley is a Crestron Masters Certified Programmer. He's not part of a commercial integration firm. He's not in the residential or marine markets. He's not employed by a university or a defense contractor.
Beardsley is the Courtroom Technology Specialist for the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. And as near as we've been able to discern, he's likely the only such specialist to hold that certification.
Beardsley's Road from Intern to Specialist
Beardsley's journey began when he was in high school: In 2013, he began interning with the Federal District Court in Connecticut at their New Haven office. "I'd thought I might go into live audio," he says, noting that his dad was a bass player who'd shown him the ropes when it came to performance setups. "But this was an IT internship — and it occurred to me that IT experience would be a good thing to have no matter what I did next," he says. "I'd always been good with computers, so this made sense."
The timing was serendipitous. "Right when I started, the District of Connecticut was just starting their own AV integration process," says Beardsley. He quickly found himself learning how to pull and terminate cable, and realized in short order that he could figure out what the AV integrators were doing — what hardware they were using, how to replace or update it, and so on. "We had the parts lists, we had the skill, we just needed the glue," he remembers. Beardsley soon found himself branching out from a Level 1 support tech in the IT department to gaining more and more knowledge in the AV arena.
That's led him to his current position, which — although still technically part of the IT department — calls for full design, integration, and support of the AV systems in the District of Connecticut's eighteen courtrooms. While those AV systems are similar in many ways to conference rooms or classrooms, there's one big difference.
The Need for Video Muting in Courtroom AV
"The real difference in our design is instead of large screens — so everyone can see a speaker or content — we do many, many small screens," says Beardsley. The reason? Courtroom applications demand video muting — also referred to as a "judge override." "That's so a jury can't see a piece of evidence until everyone's determined it's legitimate or admissible, for example," Beardsley explains. Think of it this way: Since a judge has to approve any image to go to any location, it's akin to integrating many different rooms in one space.
The other concern that's top of mind for Beardsley is ease of use. "The question I'm always asking myself is: 'How do I make this system so easy to use that it's intuitive to our customers?' We never want a hearing interrupted by technology, so it should be easy to use and reliable."
Additionally, Beardsley's skills were in high demand when the pandemic struck. Virtual court appearances were a completely new wrinkle for the federal courts, he notes: "We had never done full hearings with all parties on video — in fact, federal law needed to be temporarily amended to permit this." Beardsley needed to figure out — quickly — how to streamline videoconferencing for a broader set of users, and his Crestron training helped give him the knowledge to tackle the project.
Putting the Crestron Training in Practice
Beardsley's Crestron training began around 2016. "We had just bought our first Crestron system, and the court was sending everyone for training," he remembers. "Our team at the time had the ability to make small changes in existing Crestron code, but not much." Beardsley took that as a challenge: "I went to my first classes, and I jokingly said, 'I'm going to program a complete courtroom system when I get back.'" That was no small feat, says Beardsley. "It wasn't a small system to program. It was a 32x32 matrix and I figured it out, ensuring that all the muting aspects were easily controlled."
After that experience, Beardsley was hooked. "As I saw the beta programs that were coming down the pike, I got more and more excited," he recalls. That led to Beardsley tackling the entire programming curriculum — and eventually his Crestron certification.
In practical terms, this gives Beardsley the confidence and know-how to tackle anything that comes up. "I just recently had a request from a judge to put a witness box in a different place so she could better see the witness. In theory, that was totally easy to do since the witness box was on wheels, but our integrated camera didn't cover that angle." Without moving the witness, he enabled the built-in streaming on the existing witness camera and fed this steam to the judge's computer. With his ethos of creating intuitive and reliable solutions, he tossed in on-off controls for the user. All told, Beardsley had solved the issue in four hours — including the consultation sessions and testing with the judge.
Saving Taxpayer Money — and the Court's Precious Time
Not only had Beardsley solved an issue for a judge in short order, but he'd also saved the federal government a fair amount of money. "Think about the taxpayer money and the time that's being saved by the Connecticut federal court," says Chuck Westphal, director of civilian government sales for Crestron. "With Justin aboard, the court has the unique opportunity to use in-house resources to address any technology challenges they may face in their courtrooms. With his skill set, there isn't much he can't overcome."
Additionally, the knowledge that Beardsley's amassed is being shared among others in the federal court system. "I'm part of a group that helps other courts out. I've been getting to travel the country more and seeing more federal courthouses." What's most surprising about his travels are the variations in technology from place to place. "I've been to districts with 50-plus courtrooms and only one with any kind of integrated video system," he says. There is a wide variation in the technology needs found between each courtroom, courthouse, and district in the federal court system; this is the perfect environment to catalyze innovation in AV.
Fortunately, Beardsley's superiors in Connecticut have a firm grasp on how technology can assist the court's functions — and an understanding of what's involved in future upgrades. "We didn't skimp on conduit or boxes when the system went in," he says. With the money that's being saved by having a full-time specialist on staff, Connecticut can plan for reasonable life cycles for hardware. "We expect to get seven or eight years out of a system."
Sharing the Knowledge
When Beardsley travels, his colleagues in the field are more than welcome to pick his brain. "Anytime I'm programming for a court, I'll tell the IT people and tech specialists there that they should feel free to shadow me. There are no secrets here." Beardsley is also (rightfully) proud of his background — and hopes others can take it as an inspiration. "It's fun to be able to mentor my peers and show them that by no means do they need to have a programmer's background or a four-year degree. High school was the extent of my education before I began my Crestron training. From there, I just learned it — and anyone else can, too, if they put their mind to it."