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Plaintiffs attorney Alan Exelrod grabbed the remote control-like device, scanned a bar code from a sheet of paper, and shot the data into a DVD player. Instantly, a huge video screen flashed to life in front of the courtroom with the image of a witness during a deposition in the wrongful termination case. Exelrod then addressed the jurors, showing them how the testimony of the witness had changed between the videotaped deposition and the courtroom version. The ease with which Exelrod, a partner at San Francisco’s Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & True, was able to execute his impeachment effort is a key reason more lawyers are bringing their computers to court and seeing dramatic improvement in the impact of their presentations. But it’s also because relatively high technology can be had at fairly low cost, San Francisco Bay Area lawyers say, and especially because jurors are growing more accepting of slick electronic evidence. “Juror psychologists say that juries now expect lawyers to use technology,” says insurance defense lawyer Gregory Read, refuting the theory that jurors are turned off by too sophisticated presentations — and might even adjust damages accordingly. “Jurors in this day and age are used to getting their news in 15- to 20-second sound bites,” says Read, a partner at Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold in San Francisco. “They are used to processing this information from watching television.” San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Munter agrees that technology is improving the courtroom experience for jurors. “The high technology heightens a jury’s interest in the case,” says Munter, who is fairly well wired himself. On his bench in a recent trial, Munter was reading real-time trial transcripts on a computer monitor, viewing a second displaying taped evidence, and using another high-speed, Web-connected computer. “The analogy would be, I guess, isn’t it more interesting to watch something on television than to listen to it on the radio?” the judge said. “If you see something, it comes alive.” But it’s not only civil trial lawyers exchanging pointer and flip chart for computer and mouse. Assistant San Francisco District Attorney Jerry Coleman recently deployed Microsoft’s Powerpoint program to augment his opening statement and closing argument in a rape case. “It’s dramatic. It’s riveting,” Coleman says of the dynamic slide presentation the program allowed him to build. “Immediacy is what you’re looking for. Plus, everyone in the courtroom sees the same thing at the same time.” When he wanted to draw jurors’ attention to bruises on an alleged rape victim’s arms and hands, Coleman merely tapped a key to call up police photos. “I have the capacity to press one button to zoom in on the pictures, closer and closer, so the point sticks,” he said. “Jurors are creatures of the television and Internet age.” “It’s kind of a subliminal message to the jury that the prosecutor is in charge,” he adds. And Read says juries welcome the computer-generated multimedia accident reconstructions he relies on to present his insurance cases. “Jurors say, ‘If he can show us something in 15 minutes instead of two hours of expert testimony, we’ll take it,’ ” he says. In Exelrod’s case, he hired Video Solutions of San Francisco to put his trial materials on Digital Video Disc, each of which can hold up to seven hours of videotaped deposition testimony. And as Exelrod demonstrated, it does not take a techie sitting next to him to operate the system. The cost of having the material translated to the discs and renting the equipment starts at about $2,000 for a two-week trial. Linda Shostak, the defense attorney opposite Exelrod, countered with evidence stored on CD-ROMs, which she was able to slip into a computer under her table. Since her case centered more on documents, the CDs were loaded with e-mails and other transcripts. Her Morrison & Foerster co-counsel, Mark McDonald, operated the computer as Shostak was making her presentation to jurors. McDonald, at predetermined critical points, would zero in on a few lines or a paragraph of the document, then blow it up and make it easily readable for jurors. “The rationality is that it’s all on one [disk],” Shostak said. “It doesn’t clutter the courtroom.” Read said the big breakthrough in the technology came with the expanded capacity of hard drives at low cost. He said his laptop computer now holds 330 deposition transcripts, all of which have been “issue-coded” so he can call up all that was said on a topic. He also has 4,000 deposition exhibits, documents that he has scanned in. It gives him fingertip access to them by subject matter. “There are many database programs to use,” Read said. “What’s fancy is not the program. What’s fancy is you can store it [information] all on your hard drive. … You can do all sorts of cool stuff.” At the end of a trial, he’ll download the information off the laptop onto easily filed storage discs and clean the computer out for the next trial. Judge Munter’s conclusion on the technology’s impact on jurors is that it’s “attention-grabbing. … It heightens their interest, and people who are interested in something will absorb more.” But the judge warns that lawyers must master the new technology, practicing in advance to avoid a damaging techno-gaffe. “Effective advocacy is being efficient in the courtroom,” Munter said. “Part of being efficient is being on top of your technology. It’s embarrassing to come out and have the technology fail.”

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