Realtime webcast takes landmark case statewide
By Sandra Mierop
Like most redistricting cases that occur in the wake of a U.S. Census-mandated statewide redistricting of voters, the Alaska Redistricting Case(1) was on a judicial fast track. This meant that the parties had a limited amount of time to take depositions and conduct other pre trial discovery. Thus, most of the depositions were ordered 'rush' or reported realtime.
Once the case went to trial as a bench trial before Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner, Judge Rindner had a very limited amount of time in which to make his ruling so that an automatic appeal could be taken to the Alaska Supreme Court. Thus, the judge and the parties first decided that they wanted the case reported realtime. And shortly into the case, because Judge Rindner felt that the public should be given the greatest possible access to a case having such potentially significant impact on every resident of Alaska, the Judge and the parties decided to have the case webcast.
And as we Alaskans know, when anyone talks about 'accessibility' here in The Last Frontier, it's not small talk. Our great state covers 570,373 square miles (or almost 16 trillion square feet!) of land. Thus, the Alaska Redistricting Case posed a very interesting challenge: How to give Alaska's far flung population of 626,932 access to a case taking place in a courtroom occupying approximately just 2,500 square feet of the state.
The Right Technology = Full Access
Naturally, there is going to be a fair amount of reporting and Internet technology applied to give full access to a case to everyone in the courtroom, and around the state, nation and globe. Still, in reality and logically, all the technology starts with the court reporting machine and works its way out from there. So, the court reporting machine was connected to a laptop computer running Eclipse NT court reporting software.
Now, coming out of the laptop computer, things get a little more complex. In fact, there were so many wires and cables going into and out of my laptop that it almost looked like it was in an intensive care unit. And after one 'tripping incident,' we quickly fastened down all the cables and wires with duct tape, which was a rather low tech (and quite Alaskan, hey, it works!) solution that helped keep all of our hi tech running. Anyway, the first connection coming out of the laptop was a LiveNote feed through the laptop's USB port to three multi line connectors into which cables to the Court's and attorneys' computers connected. I also had another laptop connected to one of the multi line connectors so that I could monitor via LiveNote exactly what the Court and the attorneys were seeing in terms of a record.
The second connection from the laptop was a simple analog telephone line connected to the modem port for a dial up Internet connection. The feed that went out through the modem was a simple ASCII stream from Eclipse. And this ASCII stream was in turn sent to Webscription.com over an analog connection that was usually at a very slow 14,400 bps (Webscription.com's program is very 'clean' and can function with minimal bandwidth, thank goodness!).
Now comes some of the real technological 'magic.' Webscription.com, through the use of its proprietary technology, instantaneously reconfigured the received ASCII stream and displayed the reconfigured text on its website where it could be viewed by virtually anyone with an Internet connection and browser anywhere in the world. And people did watch. On the first day of webcasting, users were logged on from 37 unique IPs, which is not bad given a total lack of publicity.(2) And by the last day of the trial, there were 605 unique IP addresses logged on (including addresses in England and France), and the webcasting of the case had received local and national publicity.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Alaska Redistricting Case did not just pioneer the application of this technology in Alaska but in the country as this case was among the first ever to be webcast with full public access.
While the benefits to participants were many and could vary for each participant, one single thing common to virtually all participants made it perfectly clear how beneficial they found the realtime reporting. Without exception, every participant who commented to the realtime team about the reporting said that they could not imagine doing this case, or any other case like it, any other way than exactly as it was done, realtime and webcast.
As with all cases that are reported realtime, you had the typical benefits in the courtroom, such as the attorneys being able to read the record as it was being made and immediately fine tune and re ask a question to clarify the answer. But with the addition of the webcasting, there were some amazingly far reaching (both in terms of geography and the most efficient conduct of the case) benefits.
As with almost any case, the judge would ask the attorneys questions that the attorneys would normally have to research outside the courtroom and come back with an answer. However, with the webcasting, the attorneys would amazingly and sometimes almost instantaneously have the answer for the Court. This is because other attorneys and paralegals working on the case were following it live in their offices, sometimes just across town in Anchorage and often across the country in Washington, D.C., and they would research and find the answers to the questions and then e mail or call the attorneys in the courtroom.
When the case moved to Valdez for one day, many of the witnesses in Valdez came up to me and told me how they had been watching and reading the case on the Internet and how the webcasting had saved them from making a trip to Anchorage in preparation for their testimony. Also, while testifying, these witnesses frequently referred to earlier testimony that they had read online.
The webcast-ing also varied how the expert witnesses (most of whom came from across the country) prepared. These experts, instead of being sent a transcript that they would read in preparation, followed the case live or read archived testimony at Webscription.com. And as with the witnesses in Valdez, the experts in their own testimony very frequently referred to the testimony of others that they had read online.
Lastly, the realtime reporting, webcasting, and overnight production of the printed record enabled the Court and the parties to meet their extremely short deadlines for the automatic appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Sine qua non
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the following dedicated professionals without whose vision and hard work the remarkable application of technology involved in the realtime reporting and webcasting of the Alaska Redistricting Case and all the benefits that flowed from that simply would not have happened: The Honorable Mark Rindner, Superior Court Judge, and the staff of the Alaska Superior Court; Philip R. Volland, R. Scott Taylor, and the other attorneys, paralegals, and staff of Volland & Taylor PC; James L. Baldwin of the Office of the Attorney General of Alaska; Jeffrey M. Feldman, Susan C. Orlansky, and the staff of Feldman & Orlansky; Charles E. Cole of the Law Offices of Charles E. Cole; Michael D. White, Douglas J. Serdahely, Kyle W. Parker, Kevin M. Jardell, and the other attorneys, paralegals, and staff of Patton Boggs LLP; Joseph N. Levesque, William M. Walker, paralegals, and the staff of Walker, Walker & Associates LLC; Thomas M. Klinkner of Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot; Kenneth P. Jacobus of the Law Offices of Kenneth P. Jacobus; Pacific Rim Reporting (who contracted me to realtime the case); Nelda Green (scopist); Steve Miedzwiadok (proofreader); and Third Sector Technologies (Webscription.com).
To all of these people and to all the residents of Alaska, I simply say thank you for the opportunity to be of service.
The author is the President of Northern Lights Realtime & Reporting in Anchorage. NLRR@alaska.com.
1. The actual caption of the case is In Re 2001 Redistricting Cases v. Redistricting Board, et al., and it was tried in the Superior Court for the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District.
2. Each unique IP could mean multiple viewers behind that address, and many IP addresses where there were known to be multiple viewers (such as the State of Alaska and law firms) were always among the IP addresses logged on.