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Consumers are often amazed at the speed at which technology changes their daily routines. Global-positioning satellites plotting the course while one drives a car, retinal scanners in high-security areas and even grocery store bar codes and checkout scanners all change the way people go through the day. Litigators are no exception. Technology may change the trial as we know it. From the banks of the Thames to the banks of the Mississippi, courts are experimenting with new technology, transforming the art of litigation into the science of litigation. This tour of high-tech courts provides a glimpse of some of the changes already in progress. Great Britain’s Manchester Mitchell Street Crown Court in London was spending $16,000 to $19,000 a day on proceedings. The court sought ways to save money. Enter technology. In the British court, if someone throws a plea hearing and no parties come, the host doesn’t need to worry — they don’t need to be there. With the court’s Virtual Plea and Direction Hearing (VPDH) program, the court can actually have virtual hearings. The barristers, solicitors and litigants can attend the hearings from the convenience of their offices. A British plea and directions hearing in a criminal matter may last only five to 10 minutes. However, traditionally, the court personnel and parties must all assemble in court for a defendant to enter his or her plea. “That’s big money for a five-minute hearing,” says Simon Kettleborough, director of the VPDH program. He estimates that conducting virtual hearings instead of dragging everyone to the courthouse could cut the cost of the hearings in half or even more. With its technology partner, the U.S. firm Electronic Data Systems, and using eRoom Technologies Inc.’s eRoom software, the program creates a universe where in each room, there is a virtual case. Although eRoom is an off-the-shelf product, Kettleborough adds that the Windows-based program was heavily tailored to meet the program’s needs. While the VPDH portal does allow for real-time discussion if the parties happen to be online at the same time, it does not turn a court hearing into some sort of Internet chat room. Instead, the portal allows for parties to log on and input their data independently of each other, during the course of a set time scale. Security is also an important consideration. Only registered users have access to the system. Each one uses a login name, PIN and secure identification token number. GOING NATIONAL Kettleborough anticipates that the project will be expanded nationally over the next three years. “People are interested in the concept of virtual justice, and there’s political momentum behind it,” he says. “We save money, the hearings are completed and people have not had to move from … their offices.” When U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Shemwell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana wanted to add technology to the courtrooms in his district in 1997, he wanted to ensure that his courtrooms were not turned into circus tents. “We wanted to maintain the solemnity and aura of a courtroom,” he says, adding, “We didn’t want a ‘Wayne’s World’ with wires.” Not only did Shemwell want to maintain the solemnity of the courtroom, he wanted to make the technology unobtrusive. Although many new technology courts have been installed with individual monitors for each juror or every two jurors, Shemwell prefers one large screen opposite the jury box. “With individual monitors, jurors have to look down at their screens, up again to see the witness and over to see the lawyers,” he says. With one large screen, jurors see the entire panorama of the room without being distracted, he says. Shemwell says that technicians have been able to design large screens that are completely unobtrusive and blend in with the courtrooms. But blending is not always easy. The Western District has some courthouses that were built under the Works Progress Administration in the 1940s. Shemwell noted that when installing technology in these older courtrooms, adapting to the building infrastructure is an important consideration. The Western District has installed seven technology courtrooms across its five cities. According to Shemwell, the court saves money by reducing the length of trials. “Trial time is cut in half,” he says. Litigants save money as well. Shemwell says that in one case in a nontechnology courtroom, the parties had spent approximately $3,400 for bench books, blowups and the like. When the case was moved to a technology courtroom, all the evidence was digitized at a cost of only $312. Shemwell did get some resistance from judges and lawyers when he began taking the courts high-tech. However, he says that once they use the high-tech, “almost uniformly, the lawyers like it, and the juries love it.” During World War II, there was a very real threat of bomb attacks on the eastern coast of the United States. Providence, R.I., was seen as a possible place the Axis might attack. One of the casualties of war preparation was the ornate glass ceiling of the Providence federal courthouse, a classic Beaux Arts building completed in 1908. So that Axis bombers would not have an easy target, the court’s glass ceiling was covered with black paint and tar as the eastern seaboard instituted blackouts. When the time came to restore the courthouse, it was also time to introduce technology. As workers began the arduous process of removing the paint and tar from the glass ceiling, local court personnel, working closely with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, coordinated the addition of technology, according to Laurie Mann, information technology program manager for the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. When updating a historic courthouse, technological updates can be trickier, according to Mann. “We weren’t walking into a situation where we could start from scratch and install whatever we wanted,” she says. Sound was a challenge. In a round courtroom with a 50-foot glass ceiling, special attention had to be paid to the acoustics. There was also the historic nature of the building to consider. Since they couldn’t drill into the walls to install speakers, they had to find speakers powerful enough to service the courtroom without damaging the interior. To supply sound, the court hired a sound consultant and retained Doar Inc. of Lynbrook, N.Y., to install AXYS Intellivox speakers, measuring approximately six feet by one foot, at a cost of about $10,000 each. Clerk of the Court David DiMarzio is proud of the result. “When the federal courts began a massive building program in the late 1980s, many courts opted for new courthouses,” DiMarzio says. However, the federal judges in Rhode Island elected to renovate the existing courthouse. There were multiple reasons according to DiMarzio. “It’s in a prominent downtown location, and it’s a beautiful building,” he says, adding, “Lawyers who have toured the courthouse have said it’s one of the premier, if not the premier, courthouse in the nation.” The federal courts are not alone in their transformation to trials by technology. State courts across the nation are getting into the game. Orlando, Fla.’s Courtroom 23 in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit is the technology flagship for that state’s courts. Where the U.K. court used virtual software to allow parties to go to court, this court uses videoconferencing. Courtroom 23 was modeled after the high-tech Courtroom 21 at the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law. The courtroom features both 15-inch and 42-inch plasma displays, real-time court reporting, Internet and remote broadcasting and touch screens. As more courts go high-tech, it is important for litigators to know what technology tools they will have at their disposal when they go to trial. The Courtroom Information Project provides information on the features of courtrooms across the nation and overseas. “We found more and more lawyers were sending scouts to courthouses before trial so they would know the technological capabilities, lines of sight for jurors in the courtroom, the lighting of the courtroom, etc.,” says Richard Herrmann, the founder and director of the Courtroom Information Project. WHAT TO EXPECT Herrmann, a partner in the Wilmington, Del., office of Philadelphia’s Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley and an adjunct professor and senior technology law advisor at William and Mary’s Courtroom 21 project, says its goal is to give not only lawyers, but all people involved in a case, the ability to know what to expect when they get to the courtroom. Herrmann, working with William and Mary professor Fredric Lederer, the director of Courtroom 21, approached the Federal Judicial Conference to obtain approval for the project. In the fall of 2001, the FJC authorized the courts to participate if they desired to. The Courtroom Information Project also contacted the chief justices of each of the 50 states. “Delaware said that, since it was the first state, it wanted to be the first state in the project,” Herrmann says. To fund the project, Herrmann contacted leading law firms and technology vendors to become sponsors. The project’s Web site currently includes information on six courts, and Herrmann expects to add 10 per month during the first year with what he described as geometric growth in following years. The project’s Web site, www.courtroominformationproject.org, provides in-depth information on the various courthouses. Users can find a list of a particular courthouse’s technical equipment as well as technical restrictions. “It’s a great advantage for the lawyers to know this information before they get to court,” Herrmann says. TECHNOLOGY SPREADS Herrmann’s group may soon have many more courts to cover. According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, new technology — including video evidence presentation systems, videoconferencing and electronic transcription systems — was installed in more than 100 federal courthouses across the nation during fiscal 2001. In addition, chief judges now have authorization to install such equipment and to procure design and installation services to retrofit existing courtrooms, according to Administrative Office Director Leonidas Ralph Mecham’s 2001 Annual Report. With such a rapid pace of technology installation, a pretrial analysis of a courthouse’s technology may soon become as common as scouting the courthouse’s hours, chambers policies and closest locations for a post-trial beer.

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