The Future of Courtroom Technology—Today
Delaware’s eCourtroom Project
The Bencher—November/December 2017
By Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire
For the last 20 years, courts have been investing in new hi-tech courtrooms. While the technology has evolved, the design and use has pretty much remained the same. Many courtrooms have raised floors to accommodate additions or changes in wiring. Projectors, monitors, large screen TV, documents cameras and electronic control pads are now common place. In fact, The Center for Legal and Court Technology at William and Mary Law School, created and operated by world famous Professor Frederick I. Lederer, has been the incubator and laboratory for much of this development. For many years, Lederer hosted the Courtroom Information Project, an on-line registry of hi-tech courtrooms in the United States.
We have come to a period in the evolution of courtroom technology where we can look back and evaluate how we have progressed. In making this evaluation, it is clear:
- Jurists and lawyers embracing courtroom technology agree it adds to the efficiency of the trial process and most think a paperless trial can reduce trial time as much as 20 or 25 percent;
- Hi-tech courtrooms promote the use of graphic demonstrative evidence, which is helpful to the trier of fact, particularly a jury;
- The initial investment of courtroom technology is expensive and worth the investment if used;
- Lawyers might not embrace the use of courtroom technology unless the case is large enough to warrant the additional time and expense;
- Unstable technology creates such a distraction that lawyers are less likely to use it again;
- Lawyers who are not adequately trained and pro se parties might perceive the technology as off-putting or intimidating.
The path to the future hi-tech courtroom is clear. The drivers to the advancement of courtroom technology must be ease of use, stability, and reasonable costs.
Courtroom technology and its use in the Family Court of the State of Delaware, has been a topic raised by Chief Judge Michael K. Newell. With an enthusiastic offer by Family Court Judge Robert Coonin, Newell cleared the way for the development of an experimental hi-tech future courtroom project, with the above drivers in mind. The concept ease of use is particularly important in light of the large pro se presentation in family court. The project has been dubbed The eCourtroom Project. The “e” stands for either “experimental” or “electronic,” or both. It is a joint project with the Family Court, sponsored by Delaware’s Richard K. Herrmann Technology Inn and the Melson-Arsht Inn. The eCourtroom Project was installed in August 2017.
The goal of the eCourtroom design is to develop an approach to courtroom technology that is “Plug and Play” right out of the box. Because of the sensitive nature of family law, it is important that the technology is secure. The design calls for a wireless network (a router), internal to the courtroom with no access to any other networks or the internet. The design also calls for a wireless printer on the network, so that screens can be printed and marked into evidence. Provided at the podium, counsel tables, bench, and witness stand, are Microsoft Surface Pros. In addition, at the podium a document camera is connected to the podium Surface.
The intent is for the document camera to always be available to the person presenting at the podium. No longer will a cell phone need to be handed to the judge to view a picture or text message. The phone is simply placed under the document camera and the screen is printed and the image marked as an exhibit. Similarly, deposition transcripts and other documents can be distributed to all screens from the document camera. The witness has the ability to annotate with a stylus and the result can, once again, be printed and marked to protect the record.
The design of the eCourtroom also includes the ability to view any image, document, or video clip from a flash drive at the podium. Currently, it is anticipated that future courtroom technology use will be by flash drive rather than attorney laptop. This will insure the security and stability of the design. The cost of creating an eCourtroom of this design is surprisingly inexpensive compared to the traditional wired hi-tech courtrooms. The savings to a court system could be significant when dozens of courtrooms are being implemented. The stability of the design will be tested as the project proceeds.
Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire is a partner in the firm of Morris James in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a Master in the Richard K. Herrmann Technology AIC.
© 2017 Richard K. Herrmann, Esq. This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.