From the Courts Journal Archives: A view from the bench: Internet offers boundless opportunities

For most of us today, using the internet is second nature. But 20 years ago, the internet was in its infancy and courts using the internet was virtually nonexistent. Gwinnett County was an early adopter, creating its first website in 1996.  In this 1996 article published in the Georgia Courts Journal, Judge Fred Bishop explains the exciting world of the World Wide Web.

A view from the bench: Internet offers boundless opportunities
Judge Fred A. Bishop Jr.
Superior Court of Gwinnett County
altOne of the hottest topics today is the information infobahn-the Internet. This "World Wide Web" of computer sites is touted as a window to unbounded information around the world. And, it is true!
"Net surfers" can tour the Louvre and National Museum of Art, or view the latest Hubble telescope images of planets, stars, and galax­ies. Current stock and mutual fund quotes are immediately available, along with historical graphs. Over 170,000 software programs can be downloaded free from a single site. The Gutenberg project has hundreds of works of Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare and other classics for downloading. Web sites allow access to instant updates on sports, with box scores, summaries and stories. On-line fans of the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and London Times can read their "lite" versions. A full text edition of Time magazineis available. The American Memories site contains 16,000 photos and silent movies of early Americana, such as Civil War scenes, San Francisco be­fore and after the 1906 earthquake, and a 1905 execution by electro­cution. COURT TV's location has Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon's wills, Melvin Belli's bankruptcy schedule of creditors and Menendez trial transcripts.
All these sites are available along with 100,000 more around the world — Once you're on line with thirty-seven million other users. Fees range from $10 for 10 hours per month to unlimited usage for about $35 per month.
The "Net" provides not only enter­tainment, but also much practical, legal help. Emory Law School's web page has full text opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court and circuit courts issued in the past 18 months. Cornell Law School's web site pro­vides searchable U.S. Supreme Court opinions covering the past five years. Other locations across the country provide the U.S. Code, bankruptcy law and statutes and opinions of various states. The United States Treasury Department maintains a site containing all federal tax forms, booklets and brochures for all areas of taxation. These may be viewed, downloaded and printed if desired.
The Gwinnett Judicial Circuit has developed a home page and a computer bulletin board. The home page provides general information for the public and more specific court-related information for attorneys. There are descriptions of each court, civil and criminal trial calendars, domestic relations forms, phone and fax numbers of judges and staff, planning calendars for future sched­uled trials and hearings and the Gwinnett County Bar Association newsletter. The home page also includes information on jury service, resource materials available in the county law library and related web sites for legal and governmental activities.
The Gwinnett home page is located at on the World Wide Web. Do a little surfing. See if your name and telephone number are listed for worldwide viewing, and send any comments and suggestions to us.

Judge Bishop, now a senior judge, said of the article, "When I wrote that article, mosaic was the available browser, soon followed by Netscape Navigator, which was intuitive and easy to use. Microsoft explorer did not exist. As I recall, Mindspring was the only Internet server in Atlanta. Its user manual consisted of of two typed pages. Very few lawyers knew what an email was, and even fewer had an email address.

"When I proposed developing a court website during a judges meeting, everyone thought it was a joke. Our first site was rudimentary but cheaply done.  My staff attorney had an aptitude for it, and developed our site after reading a book on html programming.  Our court website was the first in Georgia, and one of the very first in the country.

"It was one of those rare opportunities to participate in the inception of a revolutionary new idea."

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