In Minority Report, an action-detective thriller set in Washington, D.C.
in 2054, actor Tom Cruise plays a police investigator who uses a dazzling
array of high tech video gadgetry in a "virtual courtroom" setting
to convince satellite-conferenced judges to issue arrest warrants for
murderers before they commit their crime. By arresting the criminals before
they act, crime is effectively eliminated.
Sound far-fetched? While eliminating the "actus reus"
(physical act) element from criminal prosecution is not likely to occur
any time soon, the advent of high tech video gadgetry in the civil courtrooms
is moving at warp speed and producing some amazing results.
Witness the recent $975 million settlement in Western MacArthur Co.,
et al. v. U.S.F.&G., et al. The settlement, reached after nearly
three months of trial in Alameda County, is one of the largest asbestos-related
settlements ever made. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, St.
Paul, the successor by merger to U.S.F.&G., has agreed to pay
the $975 million to resolve approximately 20,000 underlying personal injury
asbestos cases filed in Alameda County from approximately 1982 through
present (and for additional future claims).
Plaintiffs were represented by Faricy & Roen PC, Brobeck, Phleger
& Harrison LLP, and Miller, Starr & Regalia. To deal with the
massive amounts of discovery and the daunting task of trial presentation,
plaintiffs' counsel turned to Legal Technology Consulting and Ted Brooks.
By the time trial started, the courtroom resembled a neighborhood Good
Guys store. There were twenty-three 15-inch flat panel monitors (10 in
the jury box, 4 at counsel tables, 4 behind counsel tables for supporting
counsel and staff, one in the witness box, and one for the judge), with
kill switches to disable the jury's view for unadmitted exhibits. In addition,
the parties used a 48-inch flat panel plasma display monitor behind the
witness stand for reference by witnesses to documents and other evidence.
Plaintiffs used Trial Director on InData Trial Server with Medea external
RAID drive, which produced total 300 GB drive capacity to present several
hundred exhibits, several days of deposition video and other evidence.
"The Judge (the Honorable Bonnie Lewman Sabraw) wanted to see the
trial like a movie, to blend plaintiffs' and defendants' evidence in a
way that was easily accessible and understandable to the jury," said
Brooks, who acted as the technological maestro in the courtroom. "Since
the life of the case (12 years) outlasted much of the technology that
was used at the outset, it was a challenge to make all of the technology
work. But in the end, we succeeded."
The behind-the-scenes "technology statistics" are staggering.
- 10 Trial Databases (not including several testing, export, import,
and case buildup databases)
- 105 GB digitized deposition video
- Combined video runtime: 13 (24 hour) days, 7 hours, 14 minutes, 44
- Combined deposition excerpt runtime: 2 (24 hour) days, 13 hours, 12
minutes, 53 seconds
- 2322 Deposition excerpts (not counting several hundred used for editing
- 100 videotaped deposition transcripts (not counting many taped but
- Nearly 900 demonstrative graphic exhibits
- 15.48 GB document data
- 164204 TIFF images (all parties, not counting hundreds of thousands
in case buildup data)
Amy Matthew, a shareholder with Miller, Starr & Regalia and one of
the plaintiffs' lead trial lawyers, had nothing but praise for the work
performed by Brooks and the technology team. "This was a case of
gargantuan proportion," Matthew said. "Our ability to effectively
communicate to the jury, to show the jury a mountain of evidence in a
format that they could understand and readily assimilate, was one of the
keys to this trial. Without our extensive trial databases and the cutting
edge technology used to communicate information to the jury, we would
not have achieved the tremendous settlement that we did."
So how does one approach what Brooks described as the "Technological
Mother of All Cases"? According to Brooks, the key is to work with
competent counsel early on, develop a usable database and use an excellent
software program, which in this case was Trial Director. "We agreed
to keep a standardized system (Trial Director) following a court order
that we were to combine plaintiff and defendant deposition video deposition
clips, and play them at the same time, more closely resembling a live
witness. This resulted in us (plaintiff) presenting approximately 80%
or more of the evidence, with very few "hard copy" documents
used during the entire trial. With thousands of exhibits on each side
of the table, to try to manage the evidence as paper simply would not
have worked in any efficient manner. The Court repeatedly complimented
the efficient and effective implementation of technology in the courtroom,
and noted how the jury was very focused when deposition clips or documents
were shown on the monitors."
At the end of the day, the cutting edge technology used in Western MacArthur
Co. may not have prevented the alleged wrongs that led to the filing of
the lawsuit, but it certainly contributed to capturing a huge settlement.