Something has been bothering me for years about our (American) legal system.
Pause for snarky comments.
As a longtime reader of Slashdot, I’ve followed the legal aspects of technical lawsuits passively for years, especially court decisions that affect overall precedent, e.g. RIAA and MPIAA decisions as they pertain to P2P, cyber-bullying, spamming, anti-trust in tech, etc.
I find this stuff interesting (and sometime frightening) because I’m a geek, and these precedents affect me because. I wish I had bookmarked some of the stories I recall from the early RIAA trials because I remember being absolutely scared to death by the lack of fundamental computer and network skills shown by some of the courts.
This begs the larger question that has troubled me for a while: should cases of a technical nature be sent to courts with specialized skills, i.e. the judges have technical background and training?
Most recently, the start of the Lori Drew cyber-bullying case reminded me of an old sore.
I’m a huge believer in this idea, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been broached in the open yet. There are several compelling (I think) arguments in favor, and I shall present them in bogus legalese for your consideration.
Time Saved = Money Saved
Everyone knows going to court costs money for all parties involved. Most importantly, it costs taxpayer money.
Up front costs to establish a new court system and train judges in technical disciplines would quickly be recouped because lawyers would not have to spend hours detailing the intricacies of TCP/IP or the differences between Windows and Linux licenses.
Expert witnesses called to testify would also benefit from a higher base knowledge, skipping the “dumb it down” phase and going right into the meat of the testimony.
This would be like calling customer support and skipping past the n00b on Level 1 duty who reads off the “Have you rebooted your computer?” script and heading straight for the Level 3 geeks who can really help. No need to explain what a BIOS is or how to configure it. Just point me at the right setting.
Ultimately, a tech savvy judge will also be able to set a jury’s expectations and advise them appropriately on the technical nuances of the case, just like a judge does with legal nuances. This saves deliberation time.
Jargon is What Jargon Does
Quick: name two types of jargon?
I’ll bet you said either technical or legal. Bonus for both. There’s a very good reason why lawyers shouldn’t talk about technology, least of all in an explantory way; it’s like combining Latin and Sanskrit. I hear your voice, but nothing you’re saying makes any sense to me.
Assuming you believe that either side of a lawsuit will explain objectively what a technical concept really does, it’s still less than ideal to have the lawyer educate the principle decision maker(s) in a lawsuit.
With a tech savvy judge, the lawyers would be held accountable for misrepresenting technical concepts. This is a win, IMO.
Of the branches of our government, the judicial is generally the slowest to react to change. The legislative branch has been the most savvy to date, maybe in spots, but due to the large number of members and regular turnover, new ideas tend to bubble up quickly.
The incoming Obama administration is by far the savviest at tech to date, e.g. using Twitter as a campaign tool, uploading regular fire-side style chats to YouTube.
It may be too late though for the judicial branch. Precendent has already been set and continues to be set by cases in the system now. When in doubt, look for precedent.
As the general population grows more tech savvy, with Gen Y entering the workforce, cases will get more complex. Want an example? Boston College announced that next year, incoming freshman will no longer receive email accounts; they will instead receive addresses (e.g. johndoe at bc dot edu) which can be forwarded to existing inboxes elsewhere.
This is a big deal.
Sure it’s a savings for college IT departments, but it’s also a harbinger of things to come. Gen Y uses email, but only to talk to older people. It’s seen as a chore to maintain an inbox.
I wonder how many judges even use email regularly.
Technology is moving so fast. It seems logical (and necessary) to train judges on tech.
This is pure opinion, and if something already exists to meet this need, please enlightened me in comments. I’ve not heard of anything in this vein.
So, what do you think? Did I miss something obvious? Let me know in comments.