Technology On Trial
Big Case on a Small Island
By David Horrigan
ON THE evening of August 8, 1993, a massive earthquake hit the United States territorial island of Guam. Only three weeks before the earthquake, a new resort had opened on Guam's Tumon Bay.
The Royal Palm Resort was developed as a luxury hotel and condominium complex. It included two towers, one near the beach, the second closer to a roadway. When the earthquake hit, the beachside tower toppled against the roadside building. The Guam Department of Public Works deemed the structures unsafe, and they were demolished in December 1993.
Predictably, multiple lawsuits were filed. Discovery continued throughout the 1990s and a verdict was entered in December 2001, in what court observers call the longest court case in the history of Guam.
Three separate actions were consolidated for trial. See Iglesias v. Kawasho Int'l (Guam), Inc., No. CV 1497-93, Guam Superior Ct. Among the principal parties were Kawasho International (Guam) Inc., the developers of Royal Palm, and two construction companies on the project, Mitsui Construction Co., Ltd. and SsangYong Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd.
An Electronic Courtroom
California lawyers were called in to handle the litigation. The Los Angeles office of Holland & Knight L.L.P. (formerly Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan L.L.P.) represented Kawasho. The L.A. office of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory L.L.P. represented Mitsui, while the San Francisco office of now-Pillsbury Winthrop L.L.P. represented SsangYong. Although other firms participated in the litigation, these three firms played an especially important role -- they helped build the courtroom.
The legal teams had an immediate problem: finding a courtroom on the island large enough to handle the case. The three teams considered various island sites, but none offered the facilities and the scheduling availability necessary to try the case.
A courtroom with the technological capacity to handle the sheer size of the case was critical. According to Allen Matkins paralegal Rhonda Reid, the parties introduced 2,820 exhibits into evidence, and produced more than 500,000 pages of documents.
Eventually, the teams agreed on a warehouse in an industrial complex. The parties constructed an electronic courtroom within the warehouse, featuring video displays for the court, the jury, counsel and interpreters, real time feeds to surrounding offices and "war rooms," with multiple high-speed data connections at each counsel table. In essence, the firms were able to build a courtroom to their specifications.
The Guam courtroom in a warehouse
Robert "Mike" Cathcart, a partner of Allen Matkins, says the industrial complex made sense. "From a cost perspective, it worked well because we were able to split the expenses," he said. Holland & Knight's Robert Ivey agreed, observing, "We saved money by not duplicating each other's efforts."
"The facility cost about $300,000 for construction and cabling, and about $200,000 for 'everything else' (T.V. monitors for the jury, electronic equipment, furniture, large pull-down screen, projection LCD, audio equipment, ELMO, etc.)," said Paul Marks, associate at Holland & Knight.
The warehouse owner also expects to profit. In fact, he gave the firms rent reductions in return for the improvements made to the space, and hopes to rent the space for future court proceedings, said Cathcart.
In addition to construction and hardware decisions, software was an important consideration. Although they discussed using the same software for document management and trial presentation, in the end, the firms went separate ways. Allen Matkins used Visionary Information Systems' Visionary 4.0 for document management and trial presentation, while Holland & Knight used inData Corp.'s TrialDirector Suite. Pillsbury Winthrop (it's representatives declined to comment for this story) also used TrialDirector.
Kim Taylor, of Phoenix-based Lex Solutio Corp., served as technology consultant to Allen Matkins. Lex Solutio supports Visionary, TrialDirector and Verdict Systems' Sanction. For the Guam case, Taylor recommended Visionary. "Visionary's IssueBuilder electronic outliner was best suited for their discovery needs," he said.
Rhonda Reid agreed."Visionary gave me more flexibility with trial presentation and document management in one package," she said. Cathcart says he found Visionary better for retrieving documents via barcode at trial.
Holland & Knight associate Alex Baghdassarian says he was pleased with TrialDirector. "We had imaged documents, including six years worth of databases," he said. The system allowed the lawyers to present the massive amount of documents in an efficient manner at trial, he said.
Although there were advanced computer systems capabilities on Guam, the exotic destination did pose some unique challenges.
For one, the island is subject to frequent power outages. Holland & Knight's Ivey noted that the possibility of blackouts made having an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) unit for each computer essential. "We also had back-up generators for the courtroom and the adjacent offices," Baghdassarian added.
Language was another issue. Although, as a U.S. territory, the court proceedings were conducted in English, there were many Japanese-speaking witnesses and documents written in Japanese, as well as some in Korean.
Interpreters were present in the courtroom and during depositions. For some depositions, trial presentation software was used to omit the dialogue between the interpreter and the deponent, saving time when presenting the evidence to the jury.
The time zone was also a factor. There is a 17-hour time difference between Guam and Los Angeles (18 during daylight savings time). FedEx deliveries took three days, not overnight. Bad weather would occasionally affect satellite transmissions to Guam. Internet connections were crucial.
Redundancy to the Rescue
These special challenges to tropical litigating highlighted an important technological requirement: "We had to have built-in redundancy," said Baghdassarian, a point stressed also by Reid. "As great as the technology is, there will always be potential problems," she said.
Reid explains that their redundancy procedures included having automatic tape back-ups. "We always had back-up computers."
While redundancy to protect against technological glitches is prudent policy, in many ways, technology made the big case on a small island possible. As Kim Taylor observed, "Trying to do this case just 10 years ago would have been entirely different."
David Horrigan is assistant editor of the National Law Journal and contributing editor of Law Technology News.