Campus Courtroom Showcases Legal Technologies

Courtroom 21 is a demonstration site for visiting judges, court administrators, attorneys and other legal professionals

On the campus of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in historic Williamsburg, Va., legal professionals from around the country and world visit Courtroom 21 to witness a dazzling array of technologies in a trial setting.

Law students and faculty conduct mock trials in Courtroom 21 to demonstrate automated video recording of their proceedings, high-tech podiums that enable attorneys to present evidence by television display, and jury boxes rigged with computers for information display. The National Center for State Courts, a non-profit organization representing the nation's state courts, collaborated with the law school to establish the facility in 1993. Courtroom 21 serves as a national demonstration site for visiting judges, court administrators, attorneys and other legal professionals.

For the National Center for State Courts, which is also based in Williamsburg, co-managing Courtroom 21 represents a significant part of its mission in assisting state courts across the nation to adopt advanced information technology into their court systems.

NCSC provides many services, including researching technology tools and systems for managing cases and running courtroom trials. It also provides consulting services to state courts wanting to implement advanced technology in their court operations. The organization has additional offices in Washington and Denver. NCSC has 130 employees, 20 of whom work in the court technology division.

"We're real busy these days," said James McMillan, director of NCSC's Court Technology Laboratory. "There's a big demand among courts to learn and use the latest technology."

According to McMillan, private vendors have donated or loaned equipment worth $1 million for use in Courtroom 21 and about $2 million for technology in NCSC's court laboratory. Vendors cited for their active involvement with the court laboratories include Stenograph Corp., West Publishing, IBM, Digital Equipment Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

McMillan said the NCSC encourages state courts to implement their own pilot programs to test technologies that are on display in Courtroom 21.

While many localities are turning to private companies to establish public/private partnerships for the implementation of advanced technology, the NCSC is advising state courts on how to develop successful partnerships.

The NCSC, which has a $12 million annual budget, is funded by association membership dues, federal grants, conference and educational services and consulting activities, according to McMillan. The NCSC publishes Court Technology Bulletin, a monthly newsletter with 13,000 subscribers, and hosts a national court technology conference every three years.

"We try to provide a great deal of education and promotion about technology to the state courts," McMillan said.

Prior to building Courtroom 21, NCSC had already established a court technology laboratory that featured advanced hardware and software systems for office automation, integrated case management, document management and public access, such as touch-screen kiosks.

David K. Byers, administrative director of the courts in Arizona, said NCSC has been effective at training, hosting conferences and communicating to legal professionals the advantages of courtroom technology. Byers, who administers a state court system that is widely acknowledged to be one of the most technically advanced in the nation, said NCSC plays an important role in providing specialized assistance to state court systems. He said courts have traditionally lagged behind other institutions in using technology.

"The courts are conservative by nature. That conservatism has been a factor in many of them not keeping up with technology," Byers said.

Byers said an NCSC staff attorney once assisted Arizona officials when the state was negotiating a multimillion dollar deal with a vendor for the purchase and maintenance of a computer-based case management system for Arizona state courts. By providing the Arizona officials a draft copy of a contract, the NCSC attorney enabled Arizona officials to negotiate a deal for which none of the state officials had previous experience, according to Byers. He added that state courts often need expert assistance in negotiating contracts for the privatization of information management.

"You're talking millions of dollars with some of these computer systems contracts, and the NCSC can play a key role in helping state and localities negotiate these contracts," said Byers.

McMillan said the NCSC is spearheading an effort to adopt electronic data interchange standards for state courts on a nationwide basis.

McMillan believes state courts will eventually be able to use the Internet to facilitate court-based EDI traffic, and the move toward using electronic filing systems between lawyers and the courts will spur the adoption of EDI standards.

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