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Technology advances will put mobility into trials, doing more for less

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A small conference room packed mostly with judges from around the country heard one word that defines the future for how they go about their work: mobility.

“Mobility is the key word for information technology,” Glenn Grant, administrative director for the courts of New Jersey, told the audience at the program titled “Electronic Tribunals and Digital Trials: Visions of the 21st Century.”

The courthouses will be adopting their own equivalents of online banking and bill paying, paperless litigation, and many more meetings and hearings via video. And as much as rapid technological change pushes the courts, the driving force is pure economics—tech can be leveraged to do more for less.

“The problem with that,” said panelist Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of Minnesota, “is when you change things, it changes what you do. The impact of technology on courts is dramatic.”

For those old-line lawyers who say they don’t do email, Magnuson had this: “Yeah, right.” Ethics rules now require that attorneys be technologically competent, and if a court considers email correspondence official, that could prove problematic.

More and more documents and opinions are in digital form and include hyperlinks to cited cases and other documents, charts, videos and other attachments. But there is something on the Internet known as “link rot.” The source is no longer there.

“Is link rot destroying stare decisis as we know it?” asked Magnuson, wondering what happens if you can’t find the information a court relied on. “It is scary, scary stuff.”

Ming Chin, a justice on the California Supreme Court, presented a graphic depicting a car crash in the future. Besides being recognized by traffic cameras as the driver of her father’s car, a young woman receives a real-

time speeding ticket via smartphone an instant before the crash. The case goes through adjudication with “a carbon footprint of near zero,” Chin told the gathering, meaning that most of the human interaction among the judge, prosecution, police officer and driver is virtual, including the eventual guilty plea and levying of a fine.

“Virtual hearings and trials,” said Judge Herbert Dixon of the District of Columbia Superior Court, are “going to increase.” Virtual appearances are being done now with expert witnesses, said Dixon, a member of the ABA Journal Board of Editors, but at some point it’s likely even jurors will appear virtually. The trial itself will be viewed online, he said, and if someone wants to come to the courthouse to watch it, there will be a room to watch it—on video.

“People are not going to be there,” Dixon said.

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