The State of Florida takes access to public records very seriously, but it also prioritizes the privacy of its citizens. Through sustained efforts and the use of technology, Florida is finding ways to meet both objectives while decreasing the associated costs. In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, co-hosts Adriana Linares and Renee Thompson interview Judge Robert Hilliard from the First Judicial Circuit of Florida. Together, they discuss how the State of Florida is implementing technology to lower costs, increase public access, and improve the performance of both judges and attorneys. Tune in to hear how judges are utilizing a new paperless docket system and lawyers are taking advantage of technology to present their cases in court.
Judge Robert Hilliard is a county judge with the First Judicial Circuit of Florida. Prior to residing on the bench, his honor began his legal career in the computer industry where he had worked for 20 years before becoming a member of the Bar. Through his volunteer work, Judge Hilliard calls upon his experiences to improve the practice of law and the judiciary through use of technology.
The Florida Bar Podcast: Judge Robert Hilliard on Technology in the Court, Access to Public Records, and the Paperless Docket – 2/25/2015
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Adriana Linares: Hello and welcome to the official Florida Bar Podcast brought to you by the Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. The Practice Resource Institute is the Florida Bar’s online center for practice management information, dedicated to Florida attorneys. My name is Adriana Linares, and today I’m your host. I’m a legal technology trainer and consultant based out of Orlando. But I have a co-host on today’s episode and I’m really excited about it. Renee Thompson is here, Renee’s an attorney with Mateer & Harbert, and a member of the Board of Governors. Hey, Renee.
Renee Thompson: How are you Adriana?
Adriana Linares: I’m doing great, and we have a very special guest with us today.
Renee Thompson: Very special.
Adriana Linares: Just Robert Hilliard, who has some radio experience, I understand. So we’re just going to ask him to sign on like an experienced radio host.
Judge Robert Hilliard: We’re coming to you from the 2015 Winter Meetings of the Florida Bar here in beautiful Orlando, Florida. And we’re ready to go here on the Legal Talk Network and it’s my pleasure to be here. T hank you for having me.
Adriana Linares: That is awesome, you are so fun, judge.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Thank you.
Adriana Linares: You know, a lot of people probably think judges can be kind of stuffy and as long as I’ve known you, you’ve just been the nicest, funnest, most welcoming guy. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Judge Robert Hilliard: It’s my pleasure. I enjoy it, I’m doing a job that I love and I’m very fortunate to be here. I have not always been a judge, I’ve had other things in my life. So I’ve lived a full life, and now I’m very fortunate to serve the people of Florida in this capacity.
Adriana Linares: Tell us more; what did you do before you were a judge? BEcause I find that a particular interest.
Judge Robert Hilliard: I was in the computer business for 20 years before I ever became a lawyer.
Adriana Linares: Get out of here.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Yeah. In fact, some of the old dinosaurs will remember Sperry Univac, which was the company that invented the modern electronic computer. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert were co-inventors of the Univac, the electronic numerical integrator and calculator. And I was fortunate to meet J. Presper Eckert, one of the co-inventors of the computer. But I worked for Sperry Univac, and we were in the age of IBM; IBM was our chief competitor. I came of age in the days of punching cards and line printers and basic and Fortran Cobol programming languages. And I used to code a similar language and all of that.
Adriana Linares: Nobody understands what you’re talking about right now.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well, some of the dinosaurs will.
Adriana Linares: They don’t know what you’re saying.
Judge Robert Hilliard: It will be like memory road to them.
Adriana Linares: But I’m very impressed. So what happened? you decided that just dealing with computers was way too much? You said, “I’m going to go practice law.” How’d you go from one to the other?
Judge Robert Hilliard: I started out with Sperry Univac, a very big company. And then I went to work after that for a small company, a startup company called Stratus Computer, we built fault-tolerant super mini-computers.
Adriana Linares: Again, nobody knows what you’re saying..
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well, it was a great experience. A young startup company, pre-internet.
Adriana Linares: Love it.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Pre many of what you see now. And we were fortunate to build that company up from zero revenue when I first started with them, to half a billion in annual revenue in about 7 years.
Adriana Linares: Love it.
Judge Robert Hilliard: And that was back when a billion dollars was a lot of money; back in the old days. Several of us had a good run at that and we decided to go do something different, look for new challenges. A friend of mine wanted to go to law school and he convinced me to go along with him. So he and I went off and took the LSAT, we did well, went to law school and then I became a lawyer and then a judge after that; after a short time as a county commissioner as well. My other three friends went to work for a company that no one had ever heard of making a product that no one had ever heard of, called Cisco Systems.
Adriana Linares: Oh, just a tiny company.
Judge Robert Hilliard: One of my friends was John Morgridge, who was the CEO of Cisco Systems, so they did pretty well too.
Adriana Linares: I think those guys just might make it.
Judge Robert Hilliard: They might, they might/
Adriana Linares: One of the other things that you get involved with in the Bar is all your committee work. It’s always so amazing to me how you do your fulltime job as a judge but yet still find time for the membership to improve our profession. Can you tell us a little bit about what committees you’re involved in?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Yeah. I think it’s really important for judges and attorneys to get involved in the process to improve the legal system, to improve the judicial branch for the people of Florida. And in fact, there are a lot of improvements and enhancements and the general maintenance of the judicial branch that occur, because of the volunteer work of judges and lawyers and the people who will be in attendance in these 2015 Winter Meetings that do the work that sustains the profession of law in the state of Florida. So I believe in contributing and I do the best that I can. In fact, I had been asked to participate in many different areas and it’s my pleasure to serve on the Florida Bar‘s Vision 2016 committee. President Pettis appointed me to that position with the full support of current president, Gregory Coleman, and it’s been an honor to serve on that. In fact, you and I, Renee, serve in some committees in that regard. I’m chairman of the Integration of Technology into the Courts sub committee, and you’re chairman of the Integration of Technology into Law Practices.
Adriana Linares: Law Practices, that’s right.
Judge Robert Hilliard: And in fact, I was an early adopter of technology into the law practice when I practiced law.
Renee Thompson: He’s a man ahead of his time.
Adriana Linares: Truly. Well, we know Mr. ENIAC.
Judge Robert Hilliard: So I’m involved with that, and the other thing is the Florida Courts Technology Commision.
Adriana Linares: Big commission.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Yeah, big important commission; again, a lot of volunteer work going into that. Any other business would have hired a big consulting firm and paid them a lot of money to develop what we are doing with the work of many volunteers in the state of Florida. And I’m chairman of the Access Governance Board. Essentially, we own the matrix. We’re the ones that fleshed out the matrix that was developed and pioneered in Manatee County by Clerk Chips Shore. And we are deploying that throughout the sheet, which is the spreadsheet that controls the access to information.
Adriana Linares: With regard to e-filing.
Judge Robert Hilliard: E-filing and the public access, making available that information on the internet as well, which is coming. In Florida, we have very broad public records laws, and the data belongs to the public and we provide that to the public. However, there are certain things that the public expects us to keep confidential as well, such as social security numbers, such as mental health records, those kinds of things. So we are managing what they’ve had to manage in the medical profession for a long time. But in the medical profession, they had the benefit of just knowing that they had to keep that secret. Here, it’s public information. We have to make that public, which is fine, but there are certain things that cannot be made public. And once that bell has been rung, you cannot unring it.
Adriana Linares: That sounds like a lot of work.
Judge Robert Hilliard: It is and we’ve had some very, very good people on the Access Governance Board and the Florida Courts Technology Commission that work very hard and are very passionate about this. Our county clerks are fully engaged in the process, that is great. I am so grateful to have the participation of the FCCC and all the 67 county clerks, and also our technology officers in the circuits are fully involved, and our trial court administrators are participating, and OSCA – the Office of the State Courts Administrators under the leadership now of PK Jameson – is they are staffing these things and jut doing a marvelous job.
Adriana Linares: It is a major undertaking.
Judge Robert Hilliard: It sure is.
Adriana Linares: I don’t know too much about that, so I’m just going to be the dummy at the table and say, so all those different groups that you just mentioned, all work together to put together the matrix that provides the network, the system, for public access.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Public access, yes.
Adriana Linares: Tell us what that means in case we happen to have some listeners who don’t know what that means. I think lawyers know what that means but what if someone else weren’t to get that? What does public access mean?
Judge Robert Hilliard: All we’re really doing with technology here, is the same thing in a different way. Now, if you want to see a particular file that does not have sensitive information in it, you can go up to your county clerk’s office and say, i would like to see the John Doe file.
Adriana Linares: You have to ask for a piece of paper?
Judge Robert Hilliard: They would typically, in the past, slide you a file across the counter and you could take a look at it. Now, what’s going to happen in the very near future, is you would be able to parooz the contents of that file on the internet.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing.
Renee Thompson: From your couch.
Adriana Linares: Right! From your iPad!
Renee Thompson: From your pajamas.
Adriana Linares: From wherever you want.
Renee Thompson: That’s right.
Adriana Linares: That’s amazing, and that’s what I was trying to make very clear that that’s what we mean when we say public access. We are just making it easier for citizens, for the public, to gain access to this information that his before have been behind a very difficult, geographic wall. Technology is a big player in this.
Judge Robert Hilliard: One of the terms that I’ve heard used for that is there is an aspect to what’s called practical obscurity and you have to go to the courthouse to go look at this. Not so in the technological world. You’ll be able to look at it in the comfort of your home computer.
Adriana Linares: Which oddly, I think is what people expect and want to be able to do this day and age. Every once in a while when somebody says, do you have a fax number, I think, well, no! This is the expectations that citizens, and I think attorneys more and more, are getting to because of technology.
Judge Robert Hilliard: You know, it’s funny what you get used to. In fact, we were just talking about this, about the expectations. One of the things that we’re very sensitive to is the media. The media is very concerned with public access and their own access to court records. Especially in a high profile case, they want access and they want it fast. I believe as we move into a more electronic centric solution, our expectations will be for a faster delivery of the file. The example I used is – and I was trying to point out that our expectations change – how tolerant would we be today of a 1,200 bot dial-up modem connection?
Renee Thompson: I know, no way.
Judge Robert Hilliard: No way.
Adriana Linares: We wouldn’t be. No patience.
Judge Robert Hilliard: It’s funny.
Adriana Linares: It is funny!
Judge Robert Hilliard: And I remember when that was really something!
Adriana Linares: Yeah, I can’t believe how fast that page has just loaded! I was able to get my coffee and come back and there it was! That’s amazing.
Judge Robert Hilliard: I remember back in the old days, we used to feel like we were fortunate to use a 300 bot video terminal instead of the 110 bot teletype terminal.
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Judge Robert Hilliard: So you have so much you get used to, and I believe that we will get used to an enhanced level of service that we will see come about as a result of technology.
Adriana Linares: Well I think that’s amazing, and you are really very active with a lot of the technologies – almost all of the groups you are in are heavy technology.
Judge Robert Hilliard: I think that when our former courts administer Lisa Goodner heard about my background in the computer business, she nominated me for the Florida Courts Technology Commission and one thing led to another.
Renee Thompson: Let’s not let him be too humble about his endeavors, because he also serves in another important capacity in the state of Florida, which is chair of the the Conference of County Court Judges.
Adriana Linares: What does that mean?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well, I’m actually president of the Conference of County Court Judges, there are about 322 county court judges in Florida, and I serve as president of that conference. We work to provide education for our members, we have an annual education conference that is very beneficial and mostly taught by volunteers. Once again, these are people, judges, attorneys who volunteer their time to come and make sure that we stay on top of current laws and changes in the law, emerging technologies and fields of law.
Adriana Linares: You should let us know next time you’re having one of those meetings, we’ll come. Legal Talk Network will cover the meeting and get the information out there even better.
Judge Robert Hilliard: I know, and the next one is coming up so you will certainly get an invitation, and I will be there as well so you bet.
Adriana Linares: Well, before we move onto our next segment, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsors.
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Adriana Linares: Welcome back to the official Florida Bar Podcast. I’m Adriana Linares with my co host Renee Thompson today, and with us is the honorable Robert Hilliard. Just before we took our break, Judge Hilliard was telling us about his endeavors with the different courtroom technologies and the conference of county judges. There’s a lot of season there, it’s very tongue-tied, all this stuff. But we want to move on and ask him a couple of more questions about some of the other things he’s involved with.
Renee Thompson: That’s right. Judge Hilliard, you currently chair a subcommittee of the Board of Governor’s Vision Committee 2016, regarding integration of technology into the courts. Can you tell us what that subcommittee is currently focused on?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Yes. For some time I’ve recognized that the courts can perhaps do things more efficiently and effectively through the use of technology. And we were fortunate in Santa Rosa county to be the first county to really roll out a judicial information system. The concept was pioneered in Manatee county, and we have a product that’s used by all the judges in Santa Rosa county and it’s being deployed throughout the state now. That gives us access to our dockets, our case files. We are virtually paperless in Santa Rosa county, and we were pioneers in that. We were the first county to do that.
Renee Thompson: And that’s remarkable, because some of our judges around the state are still working on paper files and still have to wait for things to be filed on paper before they see a motion or before they see a hearing notice. It sounds to me like your county is really ahead of the curve and how you utilize information in electronic form.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Right, and it’s not only more efficient, but its a huge cost savings as well. We don’t have to buy the paper, we don’t have to move the paper, we don’t have to store the paper. We take great precautions to put all the safeguards in terms of backup, even more so than we would have with the papr file. And so we are extremely happy with the way that system is run. All of our judges embraced it and it was a seamless turnover. I remember they deployed the system and I never touched a paper file after the day they deployed the system, it’s been great. And it allows us to work remotely as well. In fact, I traveled here from Santa Rosa county and I have my main computer with me, it’s a laptop; I plug it into my desk when I’m at the office. Last night I was able to do all the things that were in my inbox. My inbox is now empty.
Adriana Linares: Inbox zero?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Inbox zero.
Adriana Linares: No way, wow!
Renee Thompson: Wow…
Adriana Linares: That’s impressive.
Renee Thompson: That is.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well, I say, the good news is, you can work from home. The bad news is, you can work from home.
Adriana Linares: You can work from home!
Judge Robert Hilliard: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: What do you do when you meet other judges who just don’t get the paperless thing? Or maybe you’re going to tell me there is no such judge.
Judge Robert Hilliard: No, that happens, and I understand that. I understand that technology can be intimidating and once you’ve done something for a while, you don’t really want to change and I understand that perfectly. I don’t believe that we should force this upon anyone and to the extent that we’re able to smoothly migrate to that, I think that that will serve the profession well. We don’t need to force it on anyone. However, it is coming; it’s something that we’re going to have to do. The cost savings are tremendous. It saves a lot of money for the taxpayers.
Adriana Linares: And it sounds like a lot of these systems that you’re piloting and pioneering and pushing through the rest of the state among all the other things that you’re doing are just going to make that easier. It almost seems as if you were going to stay a papered judge or even lawyer, it’s going to be harder for you than if we accept all of these new and efficient systems.
Judge Robert Hilliard: We have heard from more than one person, several people, who have been initially resistant and you couldn’t pry their computer from them.
Renee Thompson: Oh, that’s great.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Once they see it, they embrace it. And I’m not saying that’s for everybody, but for many people. Once they see the system, once they use the system, they embrace it, they love it and are fans from then on.
Renee Thompson: In your subgroup with the Vision Technology Committee, specifically is examining the types of technology being utilized in the courtroom, correct?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Correct. We’re Not just looking at judicial viewers. We’re also looking at it for presentation technology. I now see lawyers using iPads to present during, for example, closing argument, using a PowerPoint presentation using closing argument, also evidence presentation is being used. The courtroom of the future, I always think of about what will the courtroom of the future look like; I try and visualize that. Jurors will have monitors, perhaps, to see evidence that is displayed for them and we’ll see recording technology. Right now we are using a product that records our proceedings in place of a court reporter. So instead of a live court reported, we have a recording that can later be transcribed. That of course is again, a cost savings, a savings to the taxpayer. So again, we’re looking at technology in the terms of enhanced services but also savings to the taxpayers as well. So the sky is the limit when it comes to courtroom technology. Courtroom 21 is the name of the courtroom that the National Center for State Courts has that is a showcase for courtroom technologies, and so I’m constantly thinking about what will that look like and how can we get there.
Renee Thompson: And do you think that attorneys who utilize technology in the courtroom have an edge?
Adriana Linares: Ooh, good question, Renee!
Judge Robert Hilliard: I think that they do have an edge to some extent. Some people are good with the gift of gab, and that is fine, that is great.
Renee Thompson: Let’s not take away from that skill, and really, let’s not take away from that but…
Judge Robert Hilliard: Exactly, “but.”
Renee Thompson: You can enhance it.
Judge Robert Hilliard: You can, and I see particularly, I remember the other day thinking as I saw a PowerPoint presentation from an attorney that appears before me often. I said, “Ooh, look at that. He’s learned to use checkboxes and red boxes to emphasize his little points there.” And that kind of thing, I think does speak to juries. It’s communication. So the question really is, can you use technology to better communicate? Yes, you can.
Renee Thompson: 100 percent.
Judge Robert Hilliard: And so that’s what you’re talking about, especially in a jury trial, you’re communicating with the jurors. So yes, I think that technology can certainly be leveraged to communicate your message to the people that it matters to; whether it be the jury or the judge.
Adriana Linares: Well, it has been so wonderful having you here. We can talk to you all day.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well, it’s my pleasure, thank you!
Renee Thompson: We’d love to have you back.
Adriana Linares: We will have you back, and unfortunately it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program. Judge Hilliard, if someone wants to keep an eye on what you’ve got going on out there, is there any way that somebody can follow what you’re doing?
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well right now, we don’t have a website. We have a website in the first circuit, but we don’t really keep track of what we’re doing in terms of technology there. I would say you can follow the court’s website; look for Florida Courts Technology Commission, look for that. Look for Vision 2016, that is also a good resource.
Renee Thompson: That’s also on the Florida Bar’s website.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Exactly, on the Florida Bar’s website, and so that would be a good start to keep track of what’s going on with technology deployment in the courts in Florida.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, and of course, the Florida Bar itself is always reporting on those things and writing great articles in the journal and the news about everything that you all have going. And I just want to remind all our listeners all the time, I don’t think they realize the volunteer work and hours that everyone in our leadership puts out there to make these things happen; it’s really amazing. And someone like you, I saw your mind mappable, the different groups and commissions and committees that you’re involved with; it’s really honorable.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Well thank you.
Adriana Linares: No pun.
Judge Robert Hilliard: And you know what? If a young lawyer came to me and said, “What would you do differently?” I would say, as soon as possible, get involved with the Florida Bar. Get involved with the committees, volunteer, come to the meetings. That would be my advice to young attorneys starting out now, and to anyone, really, who has not been involved. There is so much benefit to not only for your own professional development, but to the people of the state of Florida, and to the profession from involvement with the Florida Bar. And I would encourage everyone to get involved and stay involved with the Florida Bar.
Adriana Linares: Thank you,m your honor, that’s great.
Renee Thompson: Thank you for representing the best of us.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Thank you very much, it’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Adriana Linares: For all you listeners who would like more information about what you’ve learned today, please visit the official Florida Bar podcast on the PRI section of the Florida Bar website. Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program. I’m going to ask Judge Hilliard to sign off.
Judge Robert Hilliard: Once again, coming to you from the 2015 Florida Bar Winter Meetings, Legal Talk Network signs off. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.
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