A Houston judge recently took an extraordinary step toward leveling the playing field in his courtroom: He had a computer installed at the defense table, reports the city’s Chronicle. “I wanted equal access,” said state District Judge Roger Bridgwater. Defense attorneys have long complained about lack of access to county criminal databases and the Internet at the defense table while prosecutors have had access to both since the opening of the 20-story Harris County Criminal Justice Center in 2000.
The District Attorney’s Office has funded computers for prosecutors because they are stationed in the court day after day. Defense attorneys, however, tend to go from court to court, depending on where their clients’ cases land. Bridgwater has changed that, becoming the first of 22 state district judges and 15 county court at law judges to install a computer with access to the county criminal database. Defense attorneys hope others will follow suit. Mark Bennett, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said the defense bar deserves the same access. “It’s long overdue,” Bennett said. He said prosecutors have long been able to check the criminal history of a witness during trial, or while reviewing a case.