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Anyone wanting to see what’s being argued in cases accepted for review by the Texas Supreme Court soon will find the briefs just a mouse click away as a result of action taken by the court on Jan. 14. The justices gave thumbs up for a project to make available on the court’s Web site all petitioners’ briefs on the merits, respondents’ briefs, petitioners’ reply briefs and amicus briefs in cases that are granted review by the court from Jan. 1 forward. Attorneys will be asked to submit their briefs electronically. The “e-briefs” will be posted on CourtStuff.com beginning in the next several weeks, says Charles Matz, the Supreme Court’s webmaster. “I think a lot of people are interested in what legal arguments are made in cases,” says Justice Deborah Hankinson, who researched the project and urged her court colleagues to adopt it. However, it will be up to attorneys whether to submit their briefs electronically. “It’s voluntary,” Hankinson says of the project. “We don’t have it in the rules yet.” Hankinson says she long has been an advocate for making information on cases before the court available to the public, and this project furthers that cause. Chris Griesel, the Supreme Court’s rules attorney, says the public has had access to briefs in cases being reviewed by the court in the past. But to see the briefs, an individual has had to visit the Supreme Court Building in Austin, an option that isn’t available to everyone, he says. That’s about to change. “No longer will it be that you have to come to one building or call to one building to see that stuff,” Griesel says. Griesel says that being able to find the briefs online will give attorneys who think their cases might be affected by a case being decided by the Supreme Court a “heads up” on the issues involved. It also will give parties a chance to read the briefs to determine if they have a similar situation and want to file amicus briefs, he says. According to Griesel, having easy access to briefs in cases that the high court is considering also is of educational value. “It’s good continuing legal education for all lawyers in the state,” he says. The number of briefs available on the court’s Web site will be relatively small under the pilot project. Hankinson says the court usually grants about 10 percent of the cases filed each year. Ninety-seven of the 1,069 cases filed in the Supreme Court during the 2000 fiscal year were granted review, according to an annual report published by the Office of Court Administration. Supreme Court Clerk John Adams calls the project “a good step” toward e-filing, which he says is the court’s ultimate goal. “We’re a step or two away from that,” he says. Adams says that accepting briefs only in cases that are granted review will enable the court and its staff to see how the system works before it tries e-filing. “What we want to do is get it started and see what kind of feedback we get,” Hankinson says. Adams says the court has granted review in only three cases since the first of the year. He says letters were sent on Jan. 15 to attorneys in those cases to request the briefs be submitted in electronic format. The court is requesting that all of the parties provide the electronic copies of the briefs they previously filed with the court within 10 days of receipt of the letter, Adams says. The letter instructs attorneys to file each brief on a separate three-and-a-half computer disk. All the materials provided to the court for its review of a case won’t be available online. Adams says briefs will be published on the Web site, but attachments and appendices will not. Hankinson and Adams say they want to see the briefs published online as quickly as possible. Notes Adams, “Within a few minutes after we get these things, we’ll have them on the Web.”

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