Technology has changed the courts in a lot of ways. One area that is being addressed now is the rules governing civil trials. Mark Alexander, a trial lawyer with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, discusses the reasons for the changes.
Question: What are rules of civil procedures?
Mark: Civil procedures are the rules by which courts conduct civil trials. Civil trials concern the judicial resolution of claims by one individual or group against another. Criminal trails, which the state prosecutes an individual for violating the law, has a different set of procedures.
Civil procedure rules include how filing of the lawsuit, pleadings and motions, discovery and trial will be handled. In Georgia, the Civil Practice Act governs civil procedure in the state.
Question: Why are changes being discussed now?
Mark: The Civil Practice Act was adopted in Georgia in 1966 and has governed the rules of civil procedure since then. At the time the rules were written, there was no way to envision the rise of digital information. Electronically Stored Information (ESI), such as emails, texts, videos and time sheets, are the norm. There are no more memos and letters.
The changes being discussed in Georgia now pertain to ESI in the discovery phase of a civil case. Discovery is the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial.
Question: What are some of the changes being discussed?
Mark: One area being discussed is what electronically stored information is required to be produced and the cost involved. With any company – large or small – you could be talking thousands of emails and texts from dozens of people in several locations. Also being addressed is what sanctions will be levied if pertinent ESI is not preserved. Participants in a lawsuit can be penalized by the court if they have not kept the documents.
The State Bar of Georgia put together a task force to formalize a process for discovery of electronically stored information and is working with the legislature to update the law. It’s commendable that all these folks involved in the system are coming together to make the justice system work more efficiently in the electronic age.