Start Page: Digital evidence pilot program clears preflight checklist

Start Page: Seth WilsonIt’s almost 4:30 p.m. You know the court staff is getting worried because you haven’t emailed your exhibits for an upcoming hearing. You and your team are rushing to send email one of five. No, that’s one of six. Undeliverable? I thought the attachments were less than 20MB? How am I going to submit that client video to the court?

The Indiana Supreme Court’s Innovation Initiative identified these challenges with digital exhibits during its kickoff meeting in November 2019 and proposed a pilot project to see how an online service would work. The mock trial team, detailed below, includes members of the Technology Working Group and Family Law Taskforce.

The Hamilton County courts have been piloting, in select family law cases, a program for the online submission of trial exhibits through a website called CaseLines, part of Thomson Reuters. Attorneys and their teams can log in to a website, upload their digital exhibits for a hearing and the participants have access to those files for the hearing. The website is one place where the exhibits are stored and all participants can access at the hearing.

Attorneys use the website tools to “direct” the participants in the proceeding to the exact page they are referring to, and witnesses can watch their screen while the document appears for review. The court reviews and digitally stamps the exhibits as admitted (or not).

Judge Paul Felix and his team at the Hamilton Circuit Court, attorneys Leslie Craig Henderzahs and Sarah Baker, representatives of Thomson Reuters, and I conducted a mock trial. The mock trial had two attorneys (one for petitioner and one for respondent), two PDF exhibits, a witness (me) and Judge Felix, who presided over the proceedings. Microsoft Teams was used for the audio and video portion of the proceedings.

Exhibits were handled by CaseLines. Each participant logged in to the CaseLines website, where they clicked on a link to join the hearing for the mock case. The exhibits were standard exhibits you would find in a family law case — a financial declaration (on a county PDF form) and a child support obligation worksheet. Both exhibits were PDF files. My team helped create the exhibits and upload them to the website. The instructions for doing so were simple and easy to follow. We were able to upload them into the right “section” of the case with limited issues. It may be easier than e-filing a document.

During the mock trial, petitioner’s attorney Leslie Craig Henderzahs asked questions of the witness based on the documents. The participants were “directed” to the relevant exhibit by Leslie, using CaseLines. She found the website to be a good tool: “It is going to be significantly helpful on navigating each other and the court as we make our evidentiary presentations as opposed to trying to describe, for example, flip to page 32 of the tax return that doesn’t have any page numbers on it.” She noted, “I think it will help us be far more proficient as we intake information and exchange discovery because we can then begin thinking about how we will submit it to the court for evidentiary presentation.” Leslie concluded that the tool “is wonderfully helpful and informational and organizational.”

Respondent’s attorney Sarah Baker had similar comments, finding it “extremely user friendly.” She noted that working with CaseLines, “even for a few days, you can familiarize yourself to the point where you feel comfortable uploading documents and pointing to documents.” One additional benefit Sarah noted — the tool “will force us to be more prepared and organized for court, which I appreciate.”

Judge Felix noted that CaseLines worked well from the court’s perspective during the mock trial. “It really is as simple as sitting in front of my computer and typing in thomsonreuters.caselines.com. I logged in to the system and a list of cases was available for me. One of the buttons that was next to the case was ‘Review Evidence.’ I clicked that ‘Review Evidence’ button and all of the […] documents showed up.” Judge Felix and his team were able to digitally mark the presented exhibits as admitted and the “stamp” was viewable on the exhibit by all participants in seconds.

As the witness in the mock trial, CaseLines made it simple for me to review the exhibits referenced by the attorney. CaseLines prompted me to click a button and go to the specific page of the exhibit. I simply had to look at the screen and answer the questions asked. I did face some tough questions from the attorneys — especially when the mock numbers on the exhibits didn’t exactly add up!

All in all, the pilot program is off to a good start, and it’s great to see our profession continue working to keep courts accessible.•

Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Attorneys in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. He writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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