Lawyers need gizmos along with knowledge

June 08, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

If you're a lawyer, it's no longer enough to know the facts, the law or the judge. Now you have to know the gizmos.

Consider the the 9-month-old Anne Arundel County Court House, equipped with video monitors, modem hookups at attorneys' tables, ceiling speakers, video cameras and digital audio tape.

Not to mention the DOAR Digital Evidence Presentation System, a $20,000 gadget cart that rolls around on wheels and looks like something from the control room of the Starship Enterprise.

It contains a computer writing tablet, color printer, CD player, a 37-inch color monitor that can display CAT scans, X-rays, photos or documents - all handled by lawyers using a remote control. The courthouse has four of them.

"My guess is that anybody who is going to be at trial here is going to need to know how to use this technology or their clients will suffer. I don't want my clients to be in that boat," said Annapolis lawyer Patricia A. Miller, who attended a training session late last month.

Electronically, the Anne Arundel facility is among the most advanced in the state.

"This is where the world is going. I wanted to be where the world is going," said Court Administrator Robert Wallace, who decided five years ago that it would be smarter to build in the electronics at the outset than to retrofit the building later on.

Officials are also trying to make lawyers comfortable with the technology. The savvy can reserve the equipment and bring disks from the office for use in court, while audiovisual specialist Martin Weiss (a job that didn't exist a year ago) will train the digitally challenged.

Weiss advises lawyers to build time into their schedules to consult with his staff, test the equipment and get ideas for enhancing their courtroom presentations.

"The last thing you want to do in front of a judge or a jury is fumble," said Annapolis attorney Malik J. Tuma, who was making arrangements for a dry run in preparation for a civil trial this month.

The Anne Arundel setup is unusual, according to Nicholas Croce, vice president of DOAR Communications, which supplies much of this technology around the country. He said only 200 of the company's 1,500 presentation systems are in courthouses because the judiciary is traditionally leery. Most go to prosecutors and law firms.

"If you look at most courts, electric lighting was the last thing they put in," Croce said.

Because Anne Arundel's equipment is owned by the court, it's available at no charge to all attorneys. This helps mollify critics who say that technology favors those with the most money. Even so, some defense lawyers are leery.

"The only thing that concerns me is that prosecutors so often play to the dramatic," said Alan R. Friedman, who heads the county public defender's office. "When you have these kinds of bells and whistles it creates a a situation where that can come up larger than life, or larger than it should be."

Pub date: 6/08/98

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