VirtualCourthouse; Issue 4.7
Remaking the Courts of America
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
We find ourselves confronted with the information age. Change is being thrust onto almost every facet of life. It is like a whirlwind, which will not let up and move on. Simultaneously, judicial and bar leaders are coming to grips with the genuine and real perception that citizens do not have trust in nor confidence in courts or the legal profession. These two dynamics — the information age and public trust and confidence — will compel the reshaping and indeed the remaking of the courts of America.
As dusk settles on the Twentieth Century, the judicial system gropes to embrace the information age. As the sunset turns to the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, judges, lawyers and administrators struggle to cope with the many changes forced on a system rooted in tradition and principles that change not. You see, the law’s supreme foundation is stability and certainty. Change thrusts itself from all directions the far left the far right and the muddled middle. Not only are there changes brought on by legislators, governors and presidents but the very fabric of our communities is being challenged by the lightening speed of change occasioned by new and evolving information technology.
Critics say that the system of resolving disputes is too slow, too cumbersome, too expensive and too mysterious. It is as if the line of people waiting to have their disputes resolved has not changed from the days of Moses almost 5,000 years ago. In that day, as it is recorded in the book of Exodus, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit him. After observing Moses for several days, Jethro told Moses ” what you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you (with their disputes) will only wear yourselves out. The work is heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:17, 18). Indeed, recently Representative J. C. Watts pointed out during the impeachment debate “[T]here is no joy sometimes in upholding the law. It is so unpleasant sometimes that we hire other people to do it for us. Ask the police or judges it is tiring and thankless, but we know it must be done.”
The dynamics of the information age and public trust and confidence are not just focusing on courts and the legal profession. Rather they are the same twins who are focusing on the business community and government. In the March edition of The Futurist Magazine, Bennett Davis identified the Five Forces Redefining Business, Profits from Principles. “These five forces are converging to share business’ new social imperative: consumer conscience, socially- conscious investing, the global media, special-interest activism and expectations of corporate leadership.
First, today’s consumers have learned by experience that societies and economics like nature are closed systems.
Consumers’ new conscience have complemented and cultivated the second factor the rise of socially conscious investing.
Those potential problems are exacerbated by the third factor: a competitive, unsparing and technologically-endowed media especially television that makes once abstract concepts like global warming or sweatshop labor personal to consumers.
Fourth, zealous special-interest groups have become deft at using the media to link corporate practices with social and environmental problems and solutions.
Fifth, the public is transferring its expectations of leadership in solving social problems from government to business.”
The similarities in the issues confronting business and the Courts are remarkable. Then we add to this mix the concept of e-commerce and the disturbing winds of change become more daunting and challenging.
What is e-commerce? How will it impact dispute resolution and the business of dispute resolution?
According to MIT professors Chris Westland and Ted Clark, “Electronic commerce or e-commerce is the automation of commercial transactions using computer and communication technologies.” Global Electronic Commerce, Westland & Clark, 1999 http://184.108.40.206 .
E-commerce is in essence the computerization of markets whereby buyers and sellers are matched, a price determined and payment and delivery arranged.
E-commerce is providing increasing opportunities because: (i) technology is user friendly; (ii) networks exist in stable forms; and (iii) business is reorganizing and re-engineering production and managerial processes.
What are the implications of the dynamics of e-commerce on the dispute resolution process? On the courts? The implications will manifest themselves on the substance of litigation and the process of litigation. The substance of litigation is the subject matter of the dispute. The process of litigation is the manner and method of filing a lawsuit and pursuing a claim in court. Over the next several months, we will examine e-commerce and its impact in greater depth.
Over the past several years we have witnessed an unrelenting marching evolution from purchasing EDI to ATM dispensed cash, to pay at the pump ATM gasoline stations, to point of sale cash register computers, to internet renewal of drivers’ licenses to the purchase of books on the internet. Simultaneously, the realization is setting in that the world is becoming borderless in the sense that time and space are no longer significant barriers to a business transaction.
As you may know, this will be the last column penned by Judge Ahalt. Beginning in October, the column will be penned by Retired Judge Ahalt. After considerable prayer, thought and counsel, I have determined not to seek another term as an Associate Judge of the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. I will retire September 17, 1999. On September 20, 1999, I will begin a new career as Chief Industry Advisor for JusticeLink. This position will occupy about 80 percent of my time. The balance will be devoted to arbitration, consulting, speaking and development of the Virtualcourthouse.com web site.
by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt – August 1999