Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tools of the Trade

The technology used in the practice of law and running the Courts has certainly changed in the quarter century I have been privileged to serve as a District Court judge.  In 1988, there were no computers in the courthouse – or much of anywhere else, for that matter.

Typewriters and carbon paper were used instead of computer printers and copy machines.  Courier services delivered documents to the Courthouse before fax machines were available.  The list of court cases was handwritten out in a bound book:  You’d look up the case name alphabetically and then find out what the number was so you could go to the files and find it.

Court Administrators would take telephone messages and write them out on pink slips of paper – no voicemail then!  

I traveled a lot as a judge then.  In a typical week, I would go to three different courthouses.  Invariably, when I had a break at a courthouse away from my office, I’d find the file I needed to work on was back in Gaylord.  I’d normally have to wait till I got back to Sibley County to get my telephone messages and open the envelopes to see what came in the mail.

Hearings for people from our county that were subject to a petition for commitment as mentally ill or chemically dependent were pretty routinely held at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.  The judge, attorneys, court reporter and social workers would routinely drive to Willmar for these hearings.  Often, these cases would take less than a half hour, with about three and a half hours of travel time.

My, how times have changed!

Now, we do hearings by interactive television, saving hours of travel time.  E-mail and voicemail (and voicemail on my e-mail!) keep me in constant contact with the courthouses I serve.  Instead of couriers or even faxes, scanners now allow documents to be sent instantaneously by e-mail.  The Court records are on a computer system and documents have been scanned and are available to us on the network.

All of these technological changes have made judges more efficient and able to handle the larger number of cases we are required to handle these days.  But no matter how much more efficient we become because of technological improvements, our most important work is done in the courtroom, where we deal every day with real people and the most significant issues of their lives.

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Next week:  Dress Code