Thursday, March 12, 2009

Here's a twist on the debate over laptops in the classroom - how about laptops in the courtroom?

While law profs have debated endlessly, or so it seems, whether laptops in the classroom are a good thing or not, today's National Law Journal reports on the nascent debate happening about the use of laptops, Blackberrys and other hand-held electronic devices in the courtroom.  Many judges have so far decided to ban the use of such devices by reporters, observers and, of course, jurors.

The common rationale for such a ban is that it helps prevent distractions in the courtroom as well as helps insulate juries from press interference.  To date, however, the U.S. Judicial  Conference has adopted no formal policy on the use of electronic devices in the courtroom leaving it instead to individual judges to decide how they want to handle the issue.

The NLJ article points out, though, that recently some judges have chosen to drop the ban on such devices on the grounds that more transparency surrounding the judicial process is good.  Further, some judges have decided that it's less disruptive to a trial to allow reporters to use electronic devices inside the courtroom rather than have them constantly running outside to use their hand-held devices. 

Some feel that change is inevitable:

'The use of such technology in the courtroom will become more accepted as a younger generation of judges that is less affected by media attention and more technologically savvy takes their places on the bench,' said Judge Marten, who is 57. Bennett, the Iowa federal judge, is 58.

'We are moving to a time when there is more rather than less access to the courtroom by what judges view as nonintrusive elements of the press or public,' said First Amendment specialist Floyd Abrams, a partner at New York-based Cahill, Gordon & Reindel.

The reason some federal judges fear allowing electronic messaging from their courtrooms is that they believe it will lead to other types of coverage they consider more intrusive, such as TVs in the courtrooms, Abrams said.

'There are a number of judges afraid of the slippery slope,' Abrams said.

The full article is password protected and is available here.  Registration for NLJ online is free.

I am the scholarship dude.


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