November 21, 2002 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
Over the years, Courtroom 21 has become flooded with visitors from all over the world who come to discover technologies that may be useful to their operations.
The growing interest signals that tradition-bound judges and attorneys are becoming more willing to adopt new methods. "The little things that we take for granted in other parts of the world have not yet made it into the court world, except in some very adventuresome courts," Lederer said. "Courts have to be careful. You don't want someone sent to jail because we had a newfangled procedure that turns out to not be a good idea."
But as technology proves its worth in other areas, the courts take notice. Lederer estimates there are approximately 500 high-tech courtrooms worldwide and numerous other courtrooms with "pieces" of technology.
Courtroom 21 Models
Deemed the "dream technology court," and the "world's center for experimental work," Courtroom 21 now boasts approximately 25 affiliates worldwide, each using technologies pioneered by Courtroom 21 in actual court proceedings.
"They [Courtroom 21] alpha test it and we beta test in a live courtroom," said Matt Benefiel, court administrator for Courtroom 23, in Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit Court, one of the founding affiliates and a replica of Courtroom 21. "Then what works here we go ahead and export to the other courtrooms."
Affiliate membership costs $5,000, for which the affiliate receives discounts on technology of as much as 20 percent and direct access to Courtroom 21's technology research. "One of the biggest benefits through the affiliates and the network is cost avoidance," Benefiel said. "You learn the mistakes of others, and you don't make that mistake in your installation. That saves you money that's never calculated."
An international focus that comes with affiliation to Courtroom 21 gives members a feel for what's happening around the world. Members participate in tours to other countries, including Ireland, Canada and Australia.
Lederer recently helped guide a project that equipped the Alameda County, Calif., Superior Court - a Courtroom 21 affiliate - with high-speed wireless Internet access, a breakthrough that allows lawyers to conduct online research, transfer office files, print documents, access trial databases and receive e-mail while attending court proceedings.
"You're sitting in court, and somebody cites a case and instead of standing up telling the judge you're not familiar with it, you pull it up," said Boris Feldman, a partner with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm located in California's San Francisco Bay area. "There's an efficiency advantage because you're sitting in court for hours waiting to be called, and you're doing work. And if you're on trial or in an extended hearing, you've got access to your whole office network and all the case files."
Because the network is completely independent from the court's existing system, there's no question of security. "It's like a public pay phone in that respect - completely separate, no physical overlap," said Michael Breyer, CEO of Courtroom Connect, which provided the service.
Evidence presentation technology, such as that used by jurors in the MedTech case, can reduce the length of a trial, according to Feldman. Jurors used notebook computers to retrieve and display evidence in the jury deliberation room. It's far more efficient than leafing through photocopied documents or a master sheet of evidence.
"Studies of display information show that most people are visual learners, at least in part," Lederer said. "If you are showing information to a judge or jurors - they're going to be doing a better job of understanding and remembering it. Everyone who has dealt with this area agrees that when you use evidence presentation technology in the courtroom, you have a massive increase in the speed with which the case is tried."
Evidence of the influence of Courtroom 21 on the world's courtrooms is popping up everywhere. Michigan Gov. John Engler recently signed a law creating a cyber-court that will be based on Courtroom 21. Engler has enlisted Lederer as a key adviser.
"We are seeing that most of the new courtrooms being built either have multimedia capabilities installed or the ability to add these features later," said McMillan. "Courtroom 21 has had a significant impact on the planning for new and renovated court facilities."
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