Last updated: August 23. 2013 2:36PM - 156 Views

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The leader of the local digital revolution is a 69-year-old judge known for his old-school qualities.Allen County Common Pleas Judge Richard Warren demands respect in his courtroom. He requires people to follow the rules of his courtroom, and he doesn't want anything distracting jurors from the facts presented to them.“The main thing,” Warren says, “is to maintain the sanctity from outside influences. You're always concerned, especially in this day and age, of e-mails, voicemail, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, the whole gamut, influencing people.”Despite those concerns, Warren allowed a live camera feeding the trial to LimaOhio.com and a reporter's laptop sending updates to Twitter during the three-and-a-half week murder trial of Dr. Mark Wangler. The trial ended Wednesday with the jury convicting Wangler of aggravated murder. Warren sentenced the Lima anesthesiologist to life in prison with a possibility of parole in 25 years.It marks the first live webcast of a court hearing from the Allen County Courthouse. While we here at The Lima News heard our share of thank you's for showing the trial in its entirety online, the real thanks goes to Warren.As the judge, Warren is in complete control of what happens in his courtroom. He can decide to ban a photographer if the camera clicks too loudly. He can remove certain people for being disruptive. In his courtroom, he is the law.When we introduced the live broadcast and tweeting ideas to Warren shortly before the trial started, he offered no resistance. Instead, he embraced it.“We are so used to today everything being instantaneous,” Warren says. “You're accustomed to getting your answers very quickly.”Our readers certainly embraced it. At the time Warren read the jury's verdict, there were 420 computers watching on LimaOhio.com. We've heard countless stories of people crowding around computers, watching it unfold live, courtesy of their morning newspaper. A surprising number of people watched the trial replay through all hours of the night. The experience wasn't perfect. We lost our signal a few times. The audio was choppy throughout the trial. For many of our readers, though, it was the first trip inside the local courts.More than 14,000 different visitors came to our website the day of the verdict, with nearly 3,000 of them checking in within the hour of the verdict. Eleven of the 25 most-viewed stories on LimaOhio.com in March involved the Wangler case.“It was amazing to me the interest you had in this case,” veteran court reporter Greg Sowinski says. “It meant to me a couple different things: We were doing a good job. And we were providing news to them in a format different than we're used to.”Sowinski and I have been tinkering with technology in the courtroom for several years. During the most recent Kenneth Richey case in 2008, Sowinski sent text messages from the courtroom so we could constantly update our story online on LimaOhio.com. In the Wangler case, we had the verdict online for all to see within a minute of the judge reading it. This time, the tool of choice was Twitter, where everyone could see Sowinski's occasional updates from the courtroom. He also communicated back with the newsroom via e-mail to clarify points for our ever-changing story online.“For myself, I'd heard of Twitter and didn't know what it was,” Sowinski says. “I thought it was for people who like to bring attention to themselves.“I actually think it worked really well for this.”The media, which included several national outlets, certainly didn't run the courtroom for this trial. We abided by Warren's rules. He told us to cooperate, so we did. Technology helped dramatically, as NBC News' “Dateline” installed two remote-controlled cameras to reduce distractions. We used shots from Your Hometown Stations' camera on the live feed up until the final days, when we switched to the “Dateline” cameras. All the technical work happened from a nearby room, out of sight of the jurors.We knew at any point, the judge could eliminate these potential distractions. He didn't, saying we all “handled it very professionally.”The judge routinely asked the jurors if they'd seen any coverage of the trial before allowing them to continue serving. During deliberations, the court took away their cell phones and sequestered them in hotel rooms with the televisions and telephones removed from the rooms, to avoid contact with any outside influences, such as the ones we're so proud to provide.One great benefit for the public was people saw how courtrooms really work. People become brainwashed by court dramas on television, but the Wangler trial provided a live example of justice really in action.“That's surely a positive,” Warren says. “A lot of folks I've talked to said they saw it on The Lima News website. A lot of folks indicated they understood it better. Anything you can do to help become more knowledgeable and interested in the justice system is a positive.”We may be able to share events like this again in the future.“We can do it, as long as we have a judge willing to embrace the future,” Sowinski says. “Judge Warren was willing, and hats off to him for that.”This old-school judge's open-mindedness opened us all up to how justice really works.“We're used to being comfortable with what we do regularly, and it's intimidating to do things a little differently,” Warren says. “Sure, I had some moments thinking, ‘Am I doing the right thing?' But I think we did.”






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