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Web Transcripts on Trial
National Law Journal - April 26, 1999

The courtroom has not been built yet, but the technology is ready. The two suspects awaiting trial in the Lockerbie case, accused of placing a bomb aboard a Pan Am airplane that exploded in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, will be tried by three Scottish judges at Camp Zeist, a former U.S. air base in Holland. And you'll be able to follow the trial on the Web.

Because of the international nature of the proceedings and the worldwide media interest, Scottish authorities decreed that LiveNote transcription software will be used by all parties, including the judges, to broadcast the trial transcripts over the Internet. The words will appear on computer screens seconds after they are spoken in the courtroom.

"This hearing will be the first major international trial where interested parties will be able to access the transcripts and documents, in real time, from remote locations anywhere in the world," e-mails Graham Smith, chief executive officer of LiveNote Technologies and Smith Bernal International, at www.smithbernal.com, a London-based court reporting and litigation service. There will be hyperlinks to exhibits as well, he says, to be made available as they are introduced into evidence in Holland.

Thirty installations of LiveNote software will be needed for the actual parties to the proceedings, says Mr. Smith. The software allows access to a secure, password-protected Internet site; transcripts may also be e-mailed to subscribers at their request. The hundreds of potential subscribers, aside from members of the media, include lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice and at the Libyan government.

Real-time trial transcription is becoming as commonplace as video depositions and is far less controversial than televised court proceedings. (There has been no decision yet as to whether the trial will be televised, says Mr. Smith.) High-tech litigators say that real-time transcription is now as necessary as a court reporter anywhere testimony is taken. It allows the lawyer to watch the witness and push a space bar to flag important points rather than make handwritten notes.

"I don't know how I'd live without it," says Gary Hoffman, an intellectual property litigator who heads the technology group at Washington, D.C.'s Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky L.L.P. and who has used LiveNote for the past few years. Having the testimony appear on screen is not distracting, he says, and facilitates scrolling back to ask follow-up questions. "We get long, complex answers from a witness when we're dealing with complicated subject matter," he says. "I used to say, 'You've spoken about the following' and paraphrase the testimony, and the witness would say, 'That's not correct. That's not what I said.' Real-time software ends the fights."

Without real-time software, a lawyer can always ask the reporter to read back testimony, but it can take time to locate the precise words. "It's distracting," says Mr. Hoffman. "It stops the flow [of questions] and...the witness will take advantage of the time to figure out a better answer." Real-time allows better control over the witness, he says.

As with any technology, there are always concerns about glitches, breakdowns and "acts of God." Mr. Smith says that he's ready. If a remote user loses an Internet connection, "the LiveNote Server will download any missing text to the line as soon as reconnection is established." This can also be used to capture testimony missed because of time differences, he adds.

Mr. Hoffman says that the only tech glitches he's encountered occurred when he tried to use the software on a new notebook computer. The problem was with the computer, not the software.

And if a court reporter is not skilled, both with transcription and with the software, then the "first draft" of the transcript is not useful.

In the O.J. Simpson trial, some released transcripts contained mistakes, which concerned the judge presiding over the Oklahoma City bombing trials. In part because of the O.J. Simpson "dirty transcripts," the judge would not allow real-time transcription, says Marty Steinberg, chief executive officer of PubNETics, the Denver transcription company that handled the trials of both Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

"The judge only wanted the official transcripts to be released" on the Internet after they were certified as accurate by the court, recalls Mr. Steinberg. The transcripts of the morning's proceedings would appear on the Web site at about 2 p.m., and the afternoon transcripts in the evening.

In the intervening year, court reporting skills and software have improved. LiveNote is being used in the Bosnia war crimes tribunals in the Hague, says Mr. Smith, including document and graphics presentation technology and infrared simultaneous translation.


Microsoft Corp. has devoted a great deal of space online to publishing transcripts and exhibits from its antitrust trial, at www.microsoft.com/presspass/trial.

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This article is reprinted with permission from the April 26, 1999 edition of The National Law Journal. © 1999 NLP IP Company. LawNewsNetwork.com.


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