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In a not-too-distant future, courtrooms could exist only in cyberspace, with crime scenes recreated as holograms and trial participants seeing each other only through virtual reality glasses. That’s the kind of magic “Courtroom 21″ at Williamsburg, Va.’s College of William & Mary has a taste of. In a recent demonstration, a judge presided from his home court in Portland, Ore., and a witness testified from Orlando, Fla. On the bench and in the witness box were huge televisions, where they could talk via Internet videoconferencing. Courtroom 21 director Fred Lederer is working with the state of Michigan to develop a cybercourt. In January, Michigan Gov. John Engler called for Web-based courtrooms in the state and specially trained judges to quickly resolve intellectual property rights and other cases for high-tech companies. “What used to be purely science fiction just isn’t anymore,” said Lederer, who recently saw holographic demonstrations at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “What we can already do is astounding, and what we may be able to do in the next five years is awe-inspiring.” The federal appellate judges hearing the Microsoft antitrust case last week also used quite a bit of new technology — befitting the case at hand — including computers that allowed them to communicate with their clerks or research legal documents while they listened to arguments. The laptops came with Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Internet Explorer browser as well as Netscape’s Navigator browser. Those browsers are at the heart of the antitrust battle in which a trial judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but court officials would not say which software the appeals judges prefer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for the first time, required both the government and Microsoft to submit their court filings on CD-ROMs that could be viewed on the judges’ laptops. The CD-ROMs had almost 15,000 links to case law, exhibits, legal motions and even videotaped testimony, all on a total of four disks. “I think it’s going to be better justice,” said Marty Steinberg, president of Denver-based RealLegal.com, the company contracted by both sides to produce the CD-ROMs. “Everybody has a more precise way to present their arguments, and the courts have a better way to review this information because it’s all relevant.” (RealLegal.com is a subsidiary of law.com.) Six of the seven appellate judges used laptops during the oral arguments last week. The computers had word processors and access to the Lexis and WestLaw legal databases. The judges could use instant messaging software to “chat” in real time with their law clerks, who sat on one side of the courtroom. The seventh judge, David Tatel, is blind and does not use a laptop on the bench. Lederer cautioned that all the new gadgets are prompting policy questions. “You really can come up with a cybercourt with no one physically present,” he said. “But is it adequate for public attendance to just dial in? Is that what we mean in the Constitution, or do you have to be able to walk in? “Not everything that can be done adds to the process.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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