Even before the Texas Supreme Court began live webcasting oral arguments and archiving recent arguments last year (previously discussed here and here), the Court had ditched its old system of recording oral argument on audio cassette tapes.  Digital audio files from oral arguments dating back to 2004 are available through the Oral Argument Audio link on the Court’s website.  Now, two new projects are continuing the Court’s transition into the digital age.

First, the clerk’s office is in the process of converting all the old oral argument cassettes to digital .mp3 files and making them available via the same link.  The Court used to charge for copies of oral argument tapes, but decided to preserve the arguments by converting them into digital files and to make them available to the public for free.  Audio of all oral arguments going back to 1989 will be available soon, and when complete, the project is expected to reach back to at least 1985.

Clerk Blake Hawthorne does not believe that any other state supreme court has made oral argument recordings dating back that far available on the web.  The Court’s total expenditure on this project has been minimal (about $400) thanks to a cooperative agreement with Thomson West, who loaned the equipment necessary to convert the audio cassettes to digital files.  

Thomson West is also involved in the second project.  In exchange for providing transcripts of oral arguments dating back to January 2000—which will be available for free on the Court’s website—Thomson West will be able to use video from the Court’s oral arguments in a new service that will allow subscribers to search oral argument transcripts just as they do any other document.  The transcript search results will be linked to the oral argument video, so subscribers will effectively be able to search the oral argument video for words or phrases.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a big proponent of technology, and digitization is an important way of preserving information that otherwise could be lost to history.  The Court and the clerk’s office should be commended for these efforts.

Source:  Blake Hawthorne, Clerk, Supreme Court of Texas.  The Supreme Court of Texas Blog has also commented on these developments.