- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

When Iria Giuffrida clerked for a judge in London, it was her job to carry box upon box with evidence and other documents to trial.
Last year, as a law student at the College of William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, all she needed for mock trials was her laptop computer, loaded with weightless evidence and PowerPoint presentations.
It was law made tidy, convenient and effective, says Ms. Giuffrida, who has become a visiting assistant professor of law at the school.
"I think technology in the courtroom is very useful," she says. "Computers are such excellent organizational tools."
The College of William and Mary School of Law has a high-tech courtroom, called Courtroom 21 (as in 21st century), to which tech companies lend products to be tested in a moot courtroom setting. Very few "real trials" have been conducted in the school's courtroom.
The law school is one of the few in the country that requires basic training in high technology for its students, says Fred Lederer, professor of law and director of Courtroom 21 at the school. The project has been in place for almost 10 years.
The courtroom has eight cameras, dozens of laptop computers with Internet access (each juror gets a laptop), a top-notch sound system and several 50-inch flat-screen computers with touch-screen functions.
"We're the world's center for experimental technology in the courtroom," Mr. Lederer says. "We get a look at things before they get into the real world."

The judge has two laptop computers. One has Internet access so the judge can e-mail or send instant messages during the trial. It also displays the court reporter's real-time transcripts in case the judge wants to go back and see what a witness or lawyer has said.
The other computer shows a copy of what appears on the courtroom's 50-inch screens. Those screens are primarily for the lawyers, who use them to show evidentiary documents while cross-examining a witness.
"The lawyer may ask the witness, 'Is this your signature?' while pointing to a signature on the screen," Mr. Lederer says.
The lawyers' podium is also equipped with computers in case the lawyers want to use, for example, PowerPoint a graphics software program that can produce electronic slide shows during their opening or closing statements.
"I like using PowerPoint because it allows the jury to focus better," Ms. Giuffrida says. "You can get certain key points across better."
Each lawyer also has at his or her desk a personal laptop computer with Internet access.
Instead of going into the judge's chamber during a so-called sidebar (during which the judge and lawyers for both sides have a discussion outside the jury's hearing) they can remain seated at their desks and have the sidebar discussion in an Internet chat room.
The cameras and large screens allow for appearances of remote witnesses. The cameras in the courtroom give the remote witness an idea of what is going on in the courtroom, while a camera in the witness's location shows a live picture of the witness to the jury, judge and lawyers.
During a mock terrorism trial in April 2001, for example, the court had a barrister in London interviewing a witness in Australia. During the interview with the help of cameras the witness and barrister could see each other and the Williamsburg courtroom. At the same time, the Williamsburg courtroom could see the barrister and the witness on the 50-inch screens and laptop computers.
The most "out-there" technology used in Courtroom 21 is perhaps the virtual-reality goggles that were used during an April 2002 mock trial in which the manufacturer of a stent (a slender catheter used to support collapsing blood vessels) was being prosecuted for having produced a faulty product.
The person who wears the goggles "steps into" a virtual environment created by a software program. The environment, in this case, was an operating room where the stent had been inserted into the patient. The room also showed stylized people, representing nurses and doctors, wearing scrubs.
The prosecution was trying to show that the doctor had not made a mistake when inserting the stent an argument that, if accepted, could lead to the conclusion that if the problem wasn't the doctor's fault, it must have been the manufacturer's.
The prosecution's witness, a nurse, wore the goggles. She stood in the middle of the courtroom. As she moved in the virtual operating room to show who was doing what during the operation she also moved around in the courtroom, occasionally bumping into things.
The virtual reality "operating room" was projected onto large screens for the jury, judge and lawyers.

Some professions, such as newspaper journalism, seem just to absorb technology, improving the product, while not altering it to any great extent. The introduction of technology in the legal world is more complicated, Mr. Lederer says.
"The use of technology poses a lot of practical and ethical questions," Mr. Lederer says.
Take the goggles, for example. The virtual-reality world the jury is shown might seem so convincing that it appears to be the "only" truth, as opposed to being just one way of telling the story of what happened in the operating room.
"We argued that it was too prejudicial," Ms. Giuffrida says. She "played" the manufacturer's defense lawyer. "You really have to explain to the jury that virtual reality is just one way of telling the story," she says.
Mr. Lederer says there is a lot of resistance from lawyers toward using new technology; they say they don't want to have to learn to use it. They also question whether courtroom technology really improves their ability to argue a case.
Remote witnesses, who are used only in civil cases, also may pose a problem. It's cheap and convenient not to have to fly witnesses back and forth across the nation, but is the witness more or less likely to tell the truth when not directly faced with a scrutinizing judge and jury?
"One thing we wonder is, is it easier to lie as a remote witness than if you are in the courtroom?" Mr. Lederer says.
Technology may change the very foundation of how law is practiced. Law may go from a very verbal profession started by a great orator, the Roman consul Cicero to an equally visual one.
"One of the greatest changes is the ability show things visually," Mr. Lederer says. "It's been shown that lawyers talk less [when visual elements are used]."

While there are problems with using technology in the courtroom, there are also benefits.
Lawyers and judges have about a 25 percent time savings with some of this equipment, Mr. Lederer says.
The evidence can be shown on the big screens instead of having to be passed out to the jurors, judge and other counsel.
"Another advantage is the jury can see the witness and document [the witness is being asked about] at once," Mr. Lederer says.
Mr. Lederer says he estimates that there are about 500 high-tech courtrooms in the United States, meaning they have some sort of advanced court record system but most U.S. courtrooms have no technology, he says.
It's up to each individual judge to decide what type of technology the lawyers may bring into the courtroom.
As for permanent equipment, each federal court has at least one courtroom with some high-tech equipment, such as Internet capability for both judges and attorneys or touch screens, says Thomas Hogan, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The federal judiciary decided in the late 1990s that federal courts needed this technology, Mr. Hogan says.
"It's been very successful so far," Mr. Hogan says. "[Technology] makes it so much more interesting and understandable for the jury, and it's a great timesaver too."
Mr. Lederer says there is no telling what courtrooms will look in 50 years; until the virtual-reality goggles were used in April, that technology seemed like science fiction. He says the country has the technology to conduct trials completely in cyberspace in virtual courtrooms.
"But people aren't ready for that yet," he says.
A generational shift among lawyers and judges might help.
When current law students at William and Mary and other schools start working, they may push to use more technology because it has been such an integral part of their law school education, Mr. Lederer says.
To Ms. Giuffrida, technology in the courtroom is a definite asset.
"Jurors go to sleep all the time. Technology is another way to keep them awake," she says.

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