The Computerized World of a Circuit Judge

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I have been a judge of the Superior Court of Justice for 4 1/2 years. In that capacity, I am asked to preside over a wide variety of cases and hearings which include criminal jury trials, criminal non jury cases, family law trials and motions, civil motions and trials, and a number of other issues.

From the outset, I decided to use my computer in all judicial proceedings where I was presiding for a number of reasons. First, I am left handed and do not write quickly. When I was a lawyer, note taking was always problematic for me because I found myself struggling to stay up with witnesses as they testified. Secondly, from my trial experience as a lawyer, I wanted to be able to keep my eye on the witness as much as possible, for often it is a look, or a body movement or some other physical action of the witness that is critical in assessing credibility or reliability of a witness’s testimony. Using a computer, I can keyboard while looking at the witness which is impossible when taking written notes in a judicial bench book.

Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that I decided to use my computer. Many of my colleagues felt that it acted as a barrier between counsel and the judge. I have not sensed that at all. Others felt that they had no place in the courtroom. I have yet to understand that thought pattern, because I find the utility and power of the computer have made my job considerably easier than it would have been otherwise.

The National Judicial Institute has developed a Judges’ Note Taking Template which I use exclusively in the courtroom. It is invaluable. It allows me to open a document map in the notes I am making so that I can easily find the evidence of any witnesses or quickly move to an exhibit which has been entered. I am presently in the middle of a lengthy criminal jury trial, and when an issue of evidence comes up about what a witness has said three or four days ago, I am quickly able to access the exact evidence and make my rulings accordingly. It gives me much more control in the courtroom, and counsel recognize that I am taking good notes and usually defer to my comments with little or no argument.

The template allows me to easily mark issues in the testimony of each witness. I am able to push one tab in the template and all the evidence of each witness relating to that issue is summarized in a table which shows me the name of the witness, the page where it is found and the specific note I have made. This is very useful when writing a judgement or preparing a jury charge where there are several issues such as identification, consent, after the fact conduct etc.

The template allows me to create similar tables relating to exhibits, witnesses called, comments I have made during the trial about my impressions of witnesses or particular legal issues. Perhaps the most valuable of these charts is a chronological chart. By entering the date of a particular event in the template, I am able to create a table showing each event in chronological order, the page at which the event occurred and the evidence about each event. It is invaluable when writing a judgment because in explaining the nature of the case and the facts found by the court, a chronological recitation of the facts makes the judgment much more understandable.

When I am hearing motions, I am always connected to the internet in the courtroom. This allows me to have immediate access to all Federal and Provincial Statutes and the regulations passed under each piece of legislation. Needless to say, it also gives me immediate access to Quicklaw, Westlaw, Criminal Spectrum and the various Electronic Bench Books made available on line to the judiciary. I am able to cut and paste relevant legislative provisions or excerpts from case law right into an endorsement which I can often complete while sitting in the courtroom. It is particularly helpful to be able to do it in printed form because the writing is legible and it allows the parties to see the written decision immediately. I have noticed that self-represented litigants particularly appreciate this, because they often need to seek counsel and wish to take the endorsement with them.

I keep all my judgments and rulings on the hard drive of my laptop. They therefore are with me wherever I am sitting. Because we are a “circuiting” court, we often are not working in the same courthouse each day. Nevertheless, I am able to access every ruling I have made and every excerpt of important Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases I have saved into my “personal library”. It has proved t o be invaluable.

I always try to give a written copy of my jury charge to the jury to take with them into the deliberation room. Members of most juries find this very helpful, particularly the Table of Contents which makes it easy for them to find my comments on anything covered during the charge. I have found this has significantly reduced the number of questions posed by the jury once they have retired to commence deliberations.

Finally, by hooking monitors together, I am able to craft judgments using two or three screens at the same time. It is not difficult to have my notes on one screen, the factums of counsel on the second screen and my draft judgment on the third screen. It makes the task of drafting a judgment much easier.

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Comments

  1. Justice B.T.Granger

    A great posting. I only wish I had the keyboard expertise of Justice Turnball. It is my experience that even lawyers and judges who do not have keyboard skills can use electronic technology in the litigation process. I have heard judges and lawyers agree that electronic technology is beneficial but as they do not have keyboard skills they work in a hardcopy environment leaving the use of electronic technology to others. The issue is whether counsel and/or judges who do want to work in an electronic environment can insist that litigation be conducted in a paper environment or should they be required to learn how to conduct a trial in an electronic environment?

  2. Justice B.T.Granger

    In my comment of November 24, 2009 I said “The issue is whether counsel and/or judges who do want to work in an electronic environment…” was missing the word “not” and the sentence should read “The issue is whether counsel and/or judges who do not want to work in an electronic environment can insist that litigation be conducted in a paper environment or should they be required to learn how to conduct a trial in an electronic environment?”
    Justice B. T. Granger

  3. I would ask that you please use the mic in the court rooms so that the audience can hear you . The audince is there becasue your decisions affect them . Please let them hear you .