Friday, May 10, 2002

technology in the courts
Ernie Svenson of Ernie the Attorney and Denise Howell of Bag and Baggage both recently wrote about Texas Judge Curt Henderson and his webpage. While the Judge's site is not funded by the State of Texas, it enables attorneys to save time and money by using information provided on the page. It's an excellent example that other judges might want to look over.

Judge Henderson's web site is featured in an article at entitled E-savvy Judge Ups Courtroom E-fficiency which mentions that the web site is only half the story. Judge Henderson is taking advantage of a number of other technological advances to make judicial proceedings more effective. These include:
  • powerpoint presentations in the courtroom

  • displaying evidence on a screen through a projector known as an elmo

  • conference calls by phone for some arguments in civil cases

  • submission of motions by fax

  • proposed orders sent to the judge by email
It's great when a judge is willing to take steps like Judge Henderson has to use this type of technology on a regular basis. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Delaware judges who have a web page like Judge Henderson's. But, a lot of the technology that he is working with is available in Delaware. The Superior Court of Delaware, the highest level trial court in the state, has been working diligently to keep up with technology.

A number of e-courtrooms have been set up which allow digital displays of evidence before the Court through powerpoint and other presentation software. Elmo projectors can be used to show enlarged versions of evidence on a screen. Diagrams drawn by an attorney or witness, on a smartboard, can be saved electronically. Digital audio recording in the courtroom gives attorneys the opportunity to take home cds of the day's proceedings. Live time reporting of a court reporter's transcription permits real-time electronic broadcasting of testimony. A "pink noise" generator can be used to mask the sounds of sidebar deliberations from the jury. Access to the internet, to the state intranet, and to attorneys' virtual private networks can result in remote information being pulled into the courtroom. A judge can contact his or her secretary and law clerk by email without leaving the bench. Instant messaging between stations allows for silent communication between the Judge and the court clerk.

Electronic filing and docketing of documents has been a reality in Delaware for a number of complex litigation cases, involving multiple plaintiffs and defendants in civil matters since 1991. Delaware Courts are looking at software to expand that capability to all cases sometime within the next few years. Electronic scheduling will also be included in that initiative.

Briefing by CD-rom is something that has also been adopted in Superior Court. The major requirement imposed upon attorneys who would file a brief by cd is that "the CD-ROM include imaged or text copies of all legal authorities cited."

The Court also has an automated sentencing order program that allows for orders in criminal cases to be generated in the courtroom almost immediately after the pronouncement of the sentence by the judge. The orders are electronically sent to the Department of Corrections and the probation offices, and the sentencing information is available to police officers in their computer database. A Drug Court Information System allows treatment providers to send their treatment reports to the court electronically.

A number of the e-courtroom tools available to attorneys are being adopted for use slowly. To help along, the University of Delaware has held Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes for attorneys to help them integrate technology into their courtroom presentations. The classes have included a visit to a Superior Court e-courtroom.

Technology is transforming the way the justice system functions, and the way that attorneys practice law. Delaware's future may or may not include judges using their own private web sites in the manner that Judge Henderson has, but it will see many more changes as the courts and attorneys include more technology into the way that they work.

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