using ASCII when they could use a modern format like Microsoft Word?"
First, ASCII files are fairly generic and can be opened easily by any word processor manufactured since the dinosaur era of PC technology. Those who use modern computers and powerful word processors like Microsoft Word will, of course, have a speed, power and easy-to-read display advantage, but that is inherent in using modern hardware and software. Those who choose to use older technology simply suffer from their own choices.
Second, we don't need anything any more complicated than ASCII for reporters' transcripts. The amount of formatting required is minimal -- a little centering, a couple of tabs here and there. Nothing fancy.
The third reason for using ASCII has to do with what happens in the courtroom, particularly during long, complicated trials. A trial lawyer may want to read back earlier testimony to a witness, either from a preliminary hearing, a deposition, or earlier trial testimony. It is generally considered good form and practice to advise opposing counsel and the court of the location of this testimony -- page and lines -- before commencing. That citation to an earlier transcript will appear in the record when viewed by appellate courts and counsel. They will use it to locate the material. You don't want to change the location and thus make it more difficult to find the cited material.
Remember that if you insert material -- as when making changes to text in a modern word processing document -- word wrap and other automatic features will push the later text forward. But with ASCII, there are hard returns at the end of each line. That will preserve page and line numbering locations. So there really is a good reason to use this somewhat ancient tool! Computers can easily handle expansion and shrinkage of lines to accommodate longer or additional words so that part is really no big problem. Fourth, most computer-aided transcription (CAT) programs produce ASCII files or files easily converted to ASCII. It works fine.
California has adopted the ASCII standard for transcripts. Other states should do the same. Visible page numbers should be placed at the top center of each page by CAT programs. Computers go to the beginning of pages, not the ends. And a hard page break should be inserted at the end of each page. That allows computers to "find" and "number" pages in exact correlation to the paper version.
Enough about reporters' transcripts. Let's don't forget the clerks and their pleadings, exhibits, jury instructions, forms and minutes. These can be prepared beautifully with Microsoft Word. Anyone can obtain a free viewer from Microsoft via the Internet for temporary use, although I would certainly recommend to lawyers and judges that they get the full program and even the full office suite known as Microsoft Office Professional for Windows 95. Using a word processor makes life easier by making it possible to set many data items in presumptive form, while allowing changes to be made easily by a clerk.
Files could contain embedded (okay in some cases) or linked (a better way most of the time) objects such as videos, sound files or graphics. Individual items can be linked electronically to an index or table of contents. Transcripts hundreds of pages long can easily be handled by computer as a single file. Graphics could be stored separately in "storage folders."
Clerical handling of computer files should also be standardized at all stages of the process. Distribution of appellate transcripts can be accomplished easily by e-mail (using MIME technology) or by 3.5-inch disks via snail mail. The newest 3.5-inch disks can hold huge amounts of data, even without compression. CD-ROM is another possible method. Clerks can make copies in minutes. There is no reason why the taxpayers should