Technology and Florida Family Law Courts
The Commentator, which is the official magazine of the Florida Bar Family Law Section, recently published an entire issue dedicated to technology utilized in the practice of family law. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Catherine M. Catlin was interviewed in this edition, and she discussed the impact of technology in Hillsborough County Family Law Courts:
Q: What types of technology do you use in your family law courtroom?
Judge Catlin: Almost every family law courtroom in Hillsborough County has been installed with Skype [computer video conferencing software]. Skype allows participants in the litigation proceeding, who are not in the courtroom, to feel like part of the proceeding because they can see the judge and the judge can see them. Using Skype also allows the family law judges to swear in witnesses not in the courtroom so that a notary does not need to be on the witness’s end. We can now do adoptions through Skype or telephone. Also, we are cognizant of the cost of expert witnesses and now expert witnesses can testify through Skype, eliminating the portal to portal fees that most experts charge.
Q: What types of technology do you see attorneys use in your courtroom?
Judge Catlin: I see attorneys play back videos such as video depositions or Children’s Justice Center tapes. Also, attorneys themselves bring their laptops to court to take notes. Other than that, there are not a lot of other types of technology used.
Q: Have you seen any changes in the use of technology in the courtroom since the economic downturn?
Judge Catlin: It’s still not widely used in the family law courtroom. I haven’t seen much of a difference. I’m hoping that family law attorneys practicing in Hillsborough County start using Skype. We have installed it so clients don’t have to pay experts to come into the courtroom or have to take out of state witness video depositions.
Q: Do you think technology helps you in serving as a judge?
Judge Catlin: Yes, I do. If there’s a lot of information on disk for me to review, I can review it on my time and it takes up less court time. If I had to watch every disk in actual court time you would have hours and hours in the courtrooms with parties and attorneys sitting there. That’s expensive. I don’t want to give up all my court time watching videos when I can do that in my own time.
Q: Any future plans or hopes for additional technology in the courtroom?
Judge Catlin: Right now the Odyssey program is the big software change that the Hillsborough County Clerk’s office is undertaking. Probate and family law are currently using it. The hope is to have all divisions using it by sometime in 2013. The Odyssey program allows court employees to access filed documents online. So, when a litigant files something, the clerk will scan it and judges will have immediate access to it through the computer. Unfortunately, the clerk’s staff keeps experiencing budget cuts, and they currently do not have sufficient personnel to stay current with the scanning and filing and, consequently, there is a delay of approximately a few weeks between filing and our access to a document on-line. So, it is still a good idea for attorneys in Hillsborough County to bring extra copies of items recently filed with them to hearings.
Q: The Florida Supreme Court recently instituted Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.285 titled “Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged Materials” to help with when, for example, someone forwards an e-mail to an unintended recipient. Do you have any advice for attorneys regarding e-mail?
Judge Catlin: I love e-mail. It is a big time-saver in the practice of law. For example, telephone conversations can get lengthy compared to asking questions via e-mail. But it goes back to what you tell your clients—be careful what you put in writing because it can come back to haunt you.
If you have questions regarding your Tampa Bay family law case and you wish to schedule a consultation with a Florida attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our consultation form.
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