Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Place for Wikipedia and On-line Tools in Court?

There have been several recent blog posts about how judges are being instructed not to use Wikipedia as an authoritative source for important information to be used in their decisions.

To which I can only respond, "Well, duh."

Wikipedia and other unverified sources of information do have their places in court. When used for background information, or where the exigencies of the situation do not allow for a more refined exposition of the facts, Wikipedia can be helpful to the court and useful to the outcome. But when you get to the final stages of a lawsuit or a criminal case, where a judge or jury is going to render an ultimate (pending appeal) decision on the merits, then it's time to migrate to traditional, or at least verifiable, sources of information.

I recently defended against a motion for a temporary restraining order in Federal Court where one of the key facts in my favor required me to translate a foreign-language document that I had received only hours before the hearing. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to locate and retain a professional translator who could generate a certified translation of the document. That would have been my preferred method if there had been time. Instead, I used the Google Translate tool, entering the text of the original document and using the tool to generate an English translation.

I was not about to represent to the Court that this document was a definitive, authorized translation, however. So in my declaration I laid out in careful, step-by-step detail exactly how I had produced the translation, so that both my opponent and the Court could reproduce my steps.

The Court accepted my translation for purposes of the motion. Opposing counsel, on the other hand, criticized me severely for using what he considered to be an inaccurate translation of the foreign document. I was comfortable with my position, nevertheless -- I had made no ultimate representation to the Court that the Google translation was the final word, so to speak, on the matter, and because the ruling (which generally favored my clients) was preliminary, the Court had not closed the door on the issue.

The takeaway point is that there is a place for web-based information sources to be used in court disputes. But they need to be used intelligently, and beware the attorney who believes what is on the computer monitor simply because it is on the monitor.

No comments:

Post a Comment