The Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg features articles, reviews and news of interest to lawyers and other legal professionals. This blog is published by Ted Brooks, a Trial Presentation and Legal Technology Consultant, Author and Speaker. Ted's trial experience includes the Los Angeles Dodgers divorce trial, People v. Robert Blake murder trial, and a hundreds of high profile, high value and complex civil matters.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Trial Technology Behind Western MacArthur

Litigation-Tech provided the courtroom technology in this precedent-setting litigation

2.2 Billion Reasons to Stay Tuned to Courtroom Technology

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 $2.2 billion 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 $2.2 billion 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. They included:
• 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 seconds
• Combined deposition excerpt runtime: 2 (24 hour) days, 13 hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds
• 2322 deposition excerpts (not counting several hundred used for editing purposes)
• 100 videotaped deposition transcripts (not counting many taped but not digitized)
• 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.

By Daniel R. Miller and Ted Brooks, Article for the Daily Journal Corp. Verdicts and Settlements

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