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Lights Out, Game On
Law Technology News
The second half of Super Bowl XLVII, on February 3, between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers was delayed more than 30 minutes by a power failure at the Superdome in New Orleans. That same weekend, Manchester United's soccer match against Fulham at Craven Cottage in London suffered a similar fate. There were few complaints among the fans in the Big Easy as the delay provided them the opportunity to stock up on an extra Hurricane or two. And in London the referees resolved the situation by calling halftime, sending the punters out to an early pint. But television viewers at home were left wondering, during a seemingly endless parade of commercials, shouldn't someone have planned for this?
Unlike sports, problems with technology in court are rarely resolved with readily available beverages. It is true that a judge may act leniently with a court reporter whose repeated plugging and unplugging of their steno pad to attend sidebar and chambers hearings occasionally causes their laptop to succumb to the blue screen of death. But the same leniency rarely extends to the attorneys and their trial support team. And realistically, it shouldn't. In this age of technology there are a number of options an experienced trial team can call on to prevent, or at least mitigate, the failure of their courtroom technology.
1. Backup computer: If you are using a computer to present documents, graphics, or video in trial, bring a second computer with all of the same documents, graphics, or video loaded on it. Both computers should be booted up, and can share the VGA cable to the projector and monitors using a VGA switch. Extron makes a switch that many professional trial technicians use, and a simple search online can lead to plenty of other tools. Having both up and running enables easy switching if one develops troubles a much more pleasant option than having the judge and jury wait and watch as the computer reboots.
2. Document camera: These are great tools that can already be found in many courtrooms. Elmo USA Corp. and Wolfvision are two of the industry leaders. They come in handy for those situations where documents are not on the computers, such as new exhibits, late productions, and impeaching expert witnesses with their own demonstratives.
3. Power tools: But wait, it was the power that failed in New Orleans. What if that happens in court? That is exactly what happened to Brian Hendrix, of Graphic Testimony in Houston. Brian had a trial in the old Harris County courthouse. He brought in a projector and monitors for a typical courtroom setup. But the courthouse, which as I mentioned was quite old, did not have a lot of capacity on its electrical system. "It turns out the plugs in the courtroom were on the same circuit as the jury room, and every time the jury had a break, they would use the microwave to make popcorn, and every time they did, it blew a fuse and blacked out the display equipment and the juryroom."
So how did Brian resolve this problem? "I installed an uninterruptible power supply, which didn't solve the overload, but kept the lights on in the jury room and the display equipment running until we could run down the hallway and untrip the fuse."
APC by Schneider Electric manufactures uninterruptible power supplies, one of the many companies that make excellent products. They provide those few precious minutes of power that can be the difference between keeping the case progressing and an angry glare from the judge as the jury is sent out for an unscheduled break.
4. Paper backups: If all else fails, there is the old tried-and-true: poster boards. Your favorite print vendor will be happy to make as many as you need, in black-and-white or color, loose for clipping onto an easel or mounted on foam core. I once worked on a trial where the attorney wanted every document and demonstrative graphic on a poster board. By the time the jury was sent to deliberate the courtroom was filled with more than 250 boards. This created a host of other problems, but there was no doubt the jury had seen everything the attorney wanted them to.
As we know, Baltimore was able to withstand the power outage, some good old-fashioned Louisiana voodoo, and a furious comeback by the 49ers. With some preparation, planning, and investment in technology, a trial team should be able to survive and prosper in the courtroom as well.
John Cleaves is supervisor of trial technology consulting at Latham & Watkins, based in its Los Angeles office. Cleaves is a member of Law Technology News' editorial advisory board. Email: John.Cleaves@lw.com.