June 95

Level of Gvt: State

Function: Criminal Justice

Problem/Situation: State courts, which handle the vast majority of trials in the country, need information technology for managing caseloads and running trials.

Solution: The National Center for State Courts operates a laboratory to test and assess new court-related technologies.

Vendors: Mead Data Central; West Publishing Co.; Michie-Butterworth; Doar Communications; Litigation Sciences Inc.; Court Technologies Inc.; Shure Microphone; Stenograph Inc.; AT&T; Polycom Inc.; ConferenceMate; Teleconferencing Solutions International; Executone;

Jurisdiction/Agency: National Center for State Courts

Contact: James E. McMillan, director, Court Technology Laboratory, NCSC, 804/253-2000; Internet: jmcmillan@ncsc.dni.us

By Tod Newcombe

News Editor

The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., awarded the nation's first law degree, so it seems fitting that the testing ground for the newest court technology should be located just a short walk from the college.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is a nonprofit association representing the country's state courts, in which 99 percent of all court cases are filed. To help courts carry out their mission of dispensing justice fairly and efficiently, NCSC provides a number of services, including researching technology tools and systems for managing cases and running courtroom trials.

NCSC's Court Technology Laboratory assesses, analyzes and demonstrates office automation, court transcription, video arraignment, integrated case management, document management, and public-access systems such as touch-screen kiosks. The goal, according to James E. McMillan, the lab's director, is to assist state courts with the awesome task of using technology in what has become a demanding environment for information management.

Part of the problem comes from the growing number of criminal and civil cases that are being filed in state trial courts. Between 1985 and 1992 (the most recent year figures were available), juvenile caseloads rose by 35 percent, civil caseloads by 30 percent and criminal caseloads by 25 percent, according to NCSC. To manage the growing number of cases, courts are expanding their use of technology both in the courtroom and in administrative offices.

A second problem courts face is the aging of their existing technology. The largest courts in the country, which handle most of the cases, have had automated case management systems for years, according to McMillan, but now the systems are out of date. "A lot of those systems were built with older database technology. Now the courts want to take advantage of relational database management systems," he said, "primarily to handle the complex data relationships that exist in today's courts."

All of this has led to a surge in demand for information on court technology, turning NCSC's laboratory into a very busy place. In 1994, the lab responded to more than 2,200 requests for information - more than double the number of requests in 1990. The Court Technology Bulletin, a monthly newsletter, has grown from a few hundred readers in 1989 to more than 13,000 today. NCSC also hosted more than 80 visits to the Court Technology Laboratory in 1994.


One place all NCSC visitors go is Courtroom 21. Located in William & Mary's Marshall-Wythe School of Law and adjacent to NCSC's headquarters, Courtroom 21 is billed as the most technologically advanced courtroom in the world. Developed by the law school, the college, and affiliated with NCSC, Courtroom 21 is a mecca for anyone wishing to see the latest technology used in a courtroom setting.

Except for the row of computer monitors for the jurors and a somewhat high-tech looking podium for lawyers, the technology in Courtroom 21 is unobtrusive. It's also easy to use, according to its director, Professor Frederic I. Lederer. "Everything in this courtroom has been very carefully designed so that you don't have to be an expert to use it."

What Courtroom 21 is not, however, is a model. According