Technology and Florida Family Law Courts

The Commentator, which is the official magazine of the Florida Bar Family Law Section, recently published an entire issue dedicated to technology utilized in the practice of family law.  Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Catherine M. Catlin was interviewed in this edition, and she discussed the impact of technology in Hillsborough County Family Law Courts:

Q: What types of technology do you use in your family law courtroom?

Judge Catlin: Almost every family law courtroom in Hillsborough County has been installed with Skype [computer video conferencing software]. Skype allows participants in the litigation proceeding, who are not in the courtroom, to feel like part of the proceeding because they can see the judge and the judge can see them. Using Skype also allows the family law judges to swear in witnesses not in the courtroom so that a notary does not need to be on the witness’s end. We can now do adoptions through Skype or telephone. Also, we are cognizant of the cost of expert witnesses and now expert witnesses can testify through Skype, eliminating the portal to portal fees that most experts charge.

Q: What types of technology do you see attorneys use in your courtroom?

Judge Catlin: I see attorneys play back videos such as video depositions or Children’s Justice Center tapes. Also, attorneys themselves bring their laptops to court to take notes. Other than that, there are not a lot of other types of technology used.

Q: Have you seen any changes in the use of technology in the courtroom since the economic downturn?

Judge Catlin: It’s still not widely used in the family law  courtroom. I haven’t seen much of a difference. I’m hoping that family law attorneys practicing in Hillsborough County start using Skype. We have installed it so clients don’t have to pay experts to come into the courtroom or have to take out of state witness video depositions.

Q: Do you think technology helps you in serving as a judge?

Judge Catlin: Yes, I do. If there’s a lot of information on disk for me to review, I can review it on my time and it takes up less court time. If I had to watch every disk in actual court time you would have hours and hours in the courtrooms with parties and attorneys sitting there. That’s expensive. I don’t want to give up all my court time watching videos when I can do that in my own time.

Q: Any future plans or hopes for additional technology in the courtroom?

Judge Catlin: Right now the Odyssey program is the big software change that the Hillsborough County Clerk’s office is undertaking. Probate and family law are currently using it. The hope is to have all divisions using it by sometime in 2013. The Odyssey program allows court employees to access filed documents online. So, when a litigant files something, the clerk will scan it and judges will have immediate access to it through the computer. Unfortunately, the clerk’s staff keeps experiencing budget cuts, and they currently do not have sufficient personnel to stay current with the scanning and filing and, consequently, there is a delay of approximately a few weeks between filing and our access to a document on-line. So, it is still a good idea for attorneys in Hillsborough County to bring extra copies of items recently filed with them to hearings.

Q: The Florida Supreme Court recently instituted Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.285 titled “Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged Materials” to help with when, for example, someone forwards an e-mail to an unintended recipient. Do you have any advice for attorneys regarding e-mail?

Judge Catlin: I love e-mail. It is a big time-saver in the practice of law. For example, telephone conversations can get lengthy compared to asking questions via e-mail. But it goes back to what you tell your clients—be careful what you put in writing because it can come back to haunt you.

If you have questions regarding your Tampa Bay family law case and you wish to schedule a consultation with a Florida attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our consultation form.


About Adam B. Cordover, Attorney-at-Law

Family Diplomacy is dedicated to helping clients restructure their families privately and respectfully. We practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce and family law, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services. We maintain this out-of-court practice because we strongly believe that family disputes should be resolved in a private conference room, not in a hostile and public courtroom environment. This unique perspective on family law stems back to Adam B. Cordover’s experience studying International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and abroad. Adam had the rare opportunity to work closely with ambassadors and diplomats from war-torn regions around the world. He traveled around the globe, learning from diplomatic leaders as they applied dispute resolution techniques to tackle seemingly impossible conflicts. It dawned on him: If these techniques can work in the complex world of International Relations, why not Domestic Relations and Family Law? This realization lead Adam to create an exclusively out-of-court practice and to bring a more peacemaking approach to family law. In his previous role as a litigation attorney, Adam witnessed parties experience the negative emotional and financial effects that long, drawn out divorce battles can have on families. As a result, Adam has become a strong proponent of the Collaborative Process, where a structure is put in place so that life’s hardest moments do not have to be any more difficult than necessary. A thought leader in the international collaborative law community, Adam successfully spearheaded an effort of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit to draft an administrative order safeguarding the principles of collaborative family law (just the fourth such administrative order in Florida). Adam has been featured in or interviewed about collaborative practice by the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Florida Bar News, NBC, Fox 13, Bay News 9, ABC Action News, The World of Collaborative Practice Magazine, and Spirit FM 90.5. Adam regularly speaks at professional and civic organizations locally and internationally regarding the collaborative process. Adam B. Cordover is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest interdisciplinary collaborative practice group with member attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties. Adam is also on the Executive Board and co-chair of the Research Committee of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida. Further, Adam is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. You can learn more about us and our services at Attorney Adam B. Cordover is admitted to the Florida Bar and the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. His office is located at 412 East Madison Street, Suite 824, Tampa, Florida 33602.
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