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Jury still out on cybercourt justice

Justice, cyber-style: Perry Mason meets The Price Is Right.

Imagine a court case that combined Perry Mason, Aldous Huxley, and a missing exotic bird--with a bit of The Price Is Right thrown in to make it interesting. Even the most fervant of Netizens might wince at this new form of electronic democracy.

The concept that gave rise to television justice in The People's Court has given birth to an online sibling, The Court of Last Resort, with the Honorable Judge Joseph Webner presiding.

Painful puns aside, the Sandbox Entertainment Network is serious about making a case for its new program, which debuts today. While its proceedings are "strictly for entertainment purposes," the network said, the forum will be "an interactive, virtual courtroom offering Internet citizens a chance to seek justice without the overpaid lawyers, sequestered jurors, and exhausting legal processes."

Although it has no official relation to its TV counterpart, The Court of Last Resort operates much the same way, only in cyberspace. An initiating party submits a dispute for consideration, and the court summons the other party by email if it decides to accept the case. Both sides then offer evidence and depositions, which are eventually reviewed by a jury of registered Sandbox members who can hear RealAudio testimony and view film clips with QuickTime video.

And just as in real life, to the victor go the spoils: a spree on the Internet Shopping Network that would make Bob Barker proud. The network, for its part, gets advertising revenue.

It remains to be seen whether the virtual litigation will catch on, but it won't take long to find out. The first session was held today, a dispute regarding an exotic bird that escaped the hands of a prospective buyer answering a classified ad.

Case closed.