The Courtroom 21 Project: A Light At The End Of The Legal Technology Tunnel

Today's society places a massive demand on courthouses throughout the world. With the rate of crime steadily on the rise and budgets continually dwindling, courts now have to deal with congested facilities, backlogged dockets, and decreasing and overburdened personnel. The implementation of cutting edge legal technologies is greatly enhancing the capabilities of the courts to assuage these problems, while maintaining the accuracy and propriety of the proceedings. The Courtroom 21 Project, located at the College of William & Mary's Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, constantly strives to determine ways in which legal technologies can be used to best improve all components of the legal system. A joint project of the Law School and the National Center for State Courts, the Project is the world center for courtroom and related technology information and experimentation, and includes the McGlothlin Courtroom, the most technologically advanced trial and appellate courtroom in the world.

"We drop a metaphorical pebble in the center of the courtroom well and ripple out to all other parts of the legal system," states the Project's Director, Professor Fred Lederer. Founded in 1993, the Courtroom 21 Project provides judges, court administrators, court technology experts, court reporters, architects, law professors and attorneys a demonstration site which shows integrated, commercially available, technology likely to enhance the courts, litigation and the practice of law. It also serves as a unique experimental site that determines both the results of technological integration and the legal and practical consequences of high technology applications, particularly the effects of human interaction with technology. The project conducts frequent technology demonstrations in the McGlothlin Courtroom that include not only specific hardware and software demonstrations, but the discussion of the legal and pragmatic implications of use of the given technologies.

Learning through Experimental Work

Technology in the legal system is only beneficial if it can be used to its fullest potential. Because of this, The Courtroom 21 Project emphasizes experimental work focusing on how legal technology is actually used by members of the legal profession. Jurors and judges, for example, should benefit from efficient, timely, and clear presentations of evidence, arguments and instructions. These matters, and others, are addressed through single subject experiments, ongoing courtroom use and experimental laboratory trials. The Courtroom 21 Project has announced that this year's high-technology experimental trial, United States v. Stanhope, will be a prosecution of a US citizen who attempts to fund an Al Qaeda terrorist strike in the US using in part the hawala money transfer system, the ancient, virtually untraceable money transfer system. Defendant Stanhope is charged under 18 U.S.C. 2339B, Providing Material Support or Resources to Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, with converting a valuable painting to gold for terrorist use. Her boyfriend carries the painting to Europe where it is transferred to Dubai and is sold for gold. Using the hawala system, the gold is transferred to London. Once in London, the money is donated over a period of months to a charity that sends the funds to a German affiliate. The affiliate then helps finance a company whose executive uses the funds to hire and support two men who plan to buy and use demolitions in the local area. Scheduled to be held in the McGlothlin Courtroom on April 5, 2003, this trial will not only test the Courtroom's integrated technology, but will also provide an invaluable platform for numerous specific experiments related to technology and the legal system. In addition to the Project's empirical research, Courtroom 21 performs legal research on an ongoing basis in order to keep pace with the legality of legal technology use.

Keeping Up with Ever-Changing Media

Technology is ever-changing media. To help the legal system and the general community with information on how to better use the technology available, Courtroom 21 has implemented two programs, the Court Affiliates Program and the Courtroom Information Project. The Court Affiliates are state, federal, and foreign courts seeking to apply useful, efficient, and economical courtroom and related technology to enhance the search for justice. "Our primary goal," says Professor Lederer, "is to help promote more effective means of exchanging critical technical, legal, and practical information among courts. We also want to help courts avoid 'reinventing the wheel' by offering them our cumulative knowledge and technology." Affiliates work with each other and the Courtroom 21 Project to better use the world's quickly evolving legal technology to its best advantage. They may also assist the Courtroom 21 Project in its continuing experimental efforts. Founding Affiliates, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon and the Ninth Judicial Circuit of (Orlando) Florida, for example, have assisted the Courtroom 21 Project in its State Justice Institute sponsored research effort into jury deliberation room technology. "The Affiliates Program has provided invaluable assistance to the District of Oregon with regards to technology acquisition, infrastructure design, and on-site consultation," says Donald M. Cinnamond, Clerk of Court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

The other Courtroom 21 Project program, the Courtroom Information Project, is designed to give courtroom participants the visual and technological information they need in preparing for trial in any participating courtroom in the United States by providing free public viewing of web-accessible photos and accompanying explanatory information about the nation's courtroom. Viewers can check for the availability of specific technology such as computer whiteboards, counsel laptop projections, or analog phones, as well as learn of any restrictions their courtroom of interest may have. Digital photos of each participating courtroom taken from various vantage points are also available online.

Founded in 2001, the Project is under the supervision and direction of Richard K. Hermann, partner in the Delaware office of Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley LLP, and has been authorized for U.S. district court participation by the Judicial Conference of the United States. In addition, a number of State Supreme Court Chief Justices have given their endorsement, and the Project has been deemed an "exciting and important effort" by Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey of the Delaware State Supreme Court. "Combined," says Hermann, "both the Courtroom 21 Project and the Courtroom Information Project are critical advances in ensuring that the entire legal profession and system remain technologically aware and up-to-date, and in Courtroom 21's case-ahead of the technology curve."

The Courtroom 21 Project conducts frequent demonstrations, both in Williamsburg and via videoconferencing. The Project also has the capability to supply technology design, design review, installation, installation supervision, and/or training services to law professionals and court systems.

Courtesy of Tami Flythe.