The conversion of three Indiana courts to video transcripts is one of three pilot projects that will start in selected courts in the next several weeks, all of them intended to find ways to make the appeals process thriftier and more efficient.
A second pilot aims to slash the transcript-filing time from 90 days to 30 days by using private transcription services to assist court reporters, and a third will involve electronic filing – either online or on CDs – of the appellate record.
The court pilot projects are looking at “faster, better, cheaper ways of getting the record done,” said Lilia Judson, executive director of the Division of State Court Administration for the Indiana Supreme Court, which is working with the Court of Appeals to implement the projects.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Margret Robb said that while the pilots are a project of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals will do the heavy lifting.
A panel comprising Judges Cale Bradford, James Kirsch and Melissa May will review all of the cases involving the pilot projects. “Part of that is so there can be a good evaluation of the three projects,” Robb said. “I think this was an attempt to have people who were willing and open-minded with no preconceived idea of what they like and didn’t like, and who could clearly evaluate the pluses and minuses of each,” Robb said.
“The American Bar Association standard and the federal rule both allow 30 days” to file transcripts for appeals, Kirsch said. “Indiana allows 90 days, or three times the standard. In a time of exploding technology, this should be an embarrassment.”
For appeals in which the transcript has been prepared in 30 days, the judges also will track time spent on each step of the appellate process, according to a summary of the project.
Kirsch said Indiana’s steps toward shortening the transcription time are overdue.
“The time period for the preparation of the trial court record and transcript is the longest part of the appellate process and substantially extends the time that litigants must wait for the decisions that will affect their lives,” Kirsch said.
Kofi Anokwa, an Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity fellow interning with Robb, analyzed state laws regarding time allowed for filing transcripts. Indiana is one of just four states allowing 90 days, according to Anokwa’s research. Twice as many states require filing in 30 days or less.
Frost Brown Todd counsel Maggie Smith is past chair of the Appellate Section of the Indiana State Bar Association and also serves on the Indiana Supreme Court Rules Committee. She agreed the pilots were overdue.
“It’s long been the section’s belief that 90 days is excessive and certainly is not needed in today’s age of digital technology,” Smith said.
The reduction in filing time is complicated, though, by technology that is not uniform across Indiana’s decentralized courts, some of which don’t have digital transcription capability, Smith said. The longer time period to file also is influenced by a culture that tends to use all the time available to prepare and submit court documents, even those that could be done in little time.
“The nature of the practice, whether court reporter, clerk or attorney, is to live within the timeframe allotted,” she said. “That’s even more reason to tighten up the transcript preparation. … People take as long as you give them.”
Smith said Indiana ideally could move to a system limited to 30 days for filing appellate transcripts, allowing requests for extensions in cases where more time is warranted, such as lengthy trials or complicated proceedings. “While I think as a practitioner I and my clients would love 30 days, initially, if the technology is improved, we’d be happy if they cut it down to 60 days.”
Bradford said the pilots also acknowledge court personnel have ever-growing duties, and the effort to expedite transcripts will give them the assistance they need to meet the task by hiring one or more private transcription services.
Electronic record filing also would streamline the appellate process, Bradford said.
“We constantly have conversations here on our court about what it would be like to do that,” he said of receiving the appellate record electronically or on a CD. “This will be an opportunity for our judges to do it and see how they like it.”
Smith said Indiana Appellate Rule 30 already allows electronic filing, but “nobody does it.” It’s not a requirement, and all parties must agree to it.
The appellate section of the ISBA has not opposed proposals that would require electronic filings in Indiana appellate courts, she said. Venues such as the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals already have such requirements.
The court pilot projects appear to be moving incrementally toward ways of doing business that embrace technology that will become prevalent, if not standard, in the future, Smith said.
“It’s preparing people. Ultimately, you’re going to have electronic filing at every level, I think,” she added.
Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson said the video record, expedited transcripts and e-filing initiatives could have wider impact on Indiana courts in time. He said the pilots as a whole are nothing particularly new or alarming.
“We’ve always been concerned about resolving appeals as quickly as possible. We know that it’s a burden upon litigants to have to wait for decisions, and one of the most time-consuming elements is the time it takes to prepare a record,” Dickson said.
Indiana Supreme Court spokesperson Kathryn Dolan said some logistics of the pilots still are being worked out. Those include which courts will be selected to expedite transcripts and file electronically, and decisions should be made soon. The goal is to get the projects implemented in the courts by Aug. 1.
The courts also will be looking for reaction to the projects.
“We are working on a survey for judges, law clerks, clerk of the court staff, and lawyers who will be involved with the pilot project. We will also solicit input from these individuals independent of the survey,” Dolan said.
“We’re interested to see the results,” Dickson said. “We’re keeping an open mind and hope the leaders working on these various projects will produce some recommendations that will make a difference in our ability to provide swifter and more accurate justice.”•