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When Velma Robinson wrote a new will in 1995, she may have predicted that a court battle might ensue one day. She probably didn’t predict that her wills would lead to a dispute about the use of trial technology. The disposition of her estate has included two trials, the first ending in a mistrial due to a hung jury. In juror interviews after the first trial, lawyers for one side discovered that jurors found their constant movement of projection equipment distracting. The attorneys’ efforts to rectify the problem before the second trial led to a dispute, not about the merits of the case, but about the trial hardware itself. Robinson died in 1998. The legal dispute centered on the validity of her two wills. Her 1983 will left substantial assets, including her 19,000-acre Texas ranch, to a charitable foundation she established. The 1995 will left most assets to her family and family-controlled limited partnerships. The foundation filed suit to set aside the 1995 will. In re Estate of Robinson, No. 4082 (Jackson Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). Jim Hartnett Jr. of the Hartnett Law Firm of Dallas was lead trial counsel for the foundation. Hartnett retained Houston’s Tri-Coastal Legal Technologies to handle trial technology. Neel Lane of the San Antonio office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld was lead counsel for the family. In both trials, Hartnett and Tri-Coastal used a large-display trial presentation system, featuring a 5-by-7 rear-projection screen and a rear-projection projector. Tri-Coastal trial consultant Keith Cartwright used a Gateway Solo 9100 laptop connected to a Panasonic PT-L797PWU projector with 3,000 lumens and an ET-LE 100 short-throw lens. “The short-throw lens is a real advantage because it allows the projector to be much closer to the screen,” said Rick Goldberg, Tri-Coastal’s president. “With a short-throw lens, the projector can be five feet away to project an image that would require 10 feet of distance with a standard lens. In a lot of courtrooms, you don’t have 10 feet.” In the first trial, Lane used a front-projection system with only 1,000 lumens. Because the defense projector was in front of the jurors, it had to be dismantled between witnesses. Jurors noticed the difference. NO SHARING Based on the jurors’ negative reactions, Lane wanted a system similar to Tri-Coastal’s for the second trial, but two large systems in the courtroom would have been impractical. The parties attempted to reach an agreement to share the system. It didn’t work. Lane offered to split the cost of the projection system. However, Hartnett believed that if the defense wanted to use the equipment, it should share the cost of Tri-Coastal’s professional time. “The largest part of the cost of Tri-Coastal is Keith [Cartwright]. We have offered to allow Akin Gump to share the cost of Tri-Coastal’s work at the trial, but they have refused. Instead, they want to co-opt our projector,” Hartnett wrote in a letter to Judge John Hutchison III. Lane countered, “As much as I respect Keith’s contribution to the Plaintiff’s presentation in the first trial, we do not need his help in imaging or making our presentation to the jury.” Since no deal could be reached, Akin Gump upgraded its own system for the second trial. “The guy with the best technology has an advantage with the jury,” Hutchison said. “We tried to get them to cooperate, but it came down to a cost disagreement.” Commenting on how he would manage such disagreements over the use of technology in the future, Hutchison said, “It’s really up to the lawyers to try to do what’s the least disruptive.”

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