Inmate not disadvantaged by appearing at trial by video

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Monday that a New Jersey inmate who filed a retaliation lawsuit against officials at an Indiana prison while he was housed there was not disadvantaged when the judge denied his request to be transported to Indiana for the trial. The judge instead ordered he appear by video conferencing.

John Perotti sued Diane Quinones, the education department administrator, and Billie Kelsheimer, an instructor in the education department, claiming they rescinded or denied his promotion from orderly in the department to law clerk because he had filed too many grievances. He was housed in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute at the time but later moved to a New Jersey prison.

He sought to be transported to Indiana for the trial, but Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson decided, based on costs and Perotti’s violent history, that he should appear by video conferencing. She held a pre-trial hearing using the video conference and made adjustments during the trial so that Perotti could see the expressions of the jury, witnesses and counsel. Although there were some limitations, such as Perotti could not see the whole courtroom at one time or the judge and a witness at the same time, he only indicated once that he had issues seeing someone. At that time, the judge relocated the witness to allow Perotti a better view.

The jury ruled in favor of the defendants, leading to Perotti’s appeal in John W. Perotti v. Diane Quinones and Billie Kelsheimer, 14-229. The 7th Circuit found Magnus-Stinson considered the many factors outlined in Stone v. Morris and decided it was best that Perotti appear via video, a decision they left in place. They rejected his argument that all participants should have participated by video conference so as no one was disadvantaged.

The limitations Perotti experienced by participating via video feed did not prevent him from receiving a fair trial, the judges held.

“But they do serve to illustrate how appearing remotely by video conferencing is not a perfect substitute for a prisoner’s physical presence in the courtroom. And because video conferencing facilities and capabilities will vary from court to court and prison to prison, the extent of such limitations will vary from case to case. A court may therefore not simply assume that remote appearance by video conferencing will necessarily be good enough in any case,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote.

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