An attorney is pressing the federal courts to accept legal briefs filed on CD-ROM so that judges can research and refer to pending cases electronically.
In a ruling yesterday, intellectual property lawyer Frank Gindhart won the first battle of his campaign when a federal judge set temporary rules that could clear the way for the practice.
If similar rules are adopted by courts nationally, Gindhart contends, it could make life easier for judges while creating an organized electronic archive of every document generated in a case. Not only the judicial, but also the legislative and executive branches of government are taking steps to make more documents accessible on the Net.
Gindhart, who works for the Boston law firm of Fish & Richardson, filed a court brief in January on paper and on a CD-ROM written in HTML (the language used for Net documents).
But the opposition's attorney, John Sutton of San Francisco, asked the court to toss out the CD-ROM version of the brief in the patent-infringement case, Yukiyo vs. Watanabe. He argued that his client did not have the necessary computer equipment to study the document.
Yesterday Judge Glen Archer of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to strike the CD-ROM brief in this case. But perhaps more important, the judge set interim guidelines for using HTML briefs and asked the Federal Circuit Bar Association and others to help create rules for such filings in the future.
Although the so-called Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure were amended last year to allow electronic filings in appellate courts--by email or floppy disks--no standards exist for using CD-ROMs that can be viewed with a Web browser.
Briefs created in Hypertext Markup Language permit quick keyword searches of text and allow all reference materials to be linked directly to the brief. Traditionally, these references are listed at the end of a paper and have to be looked up in books or legal databases.
"Anybody who has the resources to do this ought to provide briefs in this fashion to courts, because it will make life a lot easier for the judges," Gindhart said today. "A brief makes arguments and points the judge to transcripts, exhibits, cases, and statutes. With this system, judges don't have to search for the background documents; they can click on a link and go right to the document."
Until rules are set, attorneys can file CD-ROM briefs in Archer's court, but only if they get approval from all parties involved in the case.
"Although there is much to commend [about] the filing of a CD-ROM brief, it bears emphasizing that the paper brief and appendix continue to be the only required filings," Archer wrote in his decision. "By no means, however, does the court intend to discourage the filing of CD-ROM briefs under appropriate rules and standards."
The court called on its Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules, the Federal Circuit Bar Association, and other interested members of the bar to propose suggested rules, standards, and guidelines for the filing of CD-ROM briefs for the court's consideration.