Methodology for Creating and Preparing Case Abstracts
Winston & Strawn LLP secured court records and other documents concerning exonoree court proceedings from multiple sources located throughout the country, including courts, defense counsel and the national network of "innocence projects." The Innocence Project of New York, which represented many of the exonorees, was a principal source.
Upon receipt, exonoree files are reviewed and organized by a Winston & Strawn paralegal and then image-scanned, assigned a bates number, and uploaded into a work database. Later, paralegals "scrub" the entire imaged exonoree file creating an index of all documents for that exonoree, confirming that pages are grouped and separated as documents appropriately, and conducting a privacy search to redact or remove any documents containing confidential or privileged information.
Once an exonoree file is designated as "complete" (typically meaning it contains a trial transcript and post-conviction pleadings and possibly other documents were also obtained) it is assigned out for "mining" -- the process by which volunteers reviewed the case file documents to complete a summary case abstract. The electronic template for creating the case summary abstract contains 15 subject matter tabs each with multiple questions. The template was the result of extensive discussion between the Innocence Project and Winston & Strawn regarding the nature of information to be extracted from the files and the most appropriate design for securing consistent and complete answers. The templates were made available to miners though a secure extranet site that was accessible only to authorized users given access by project managers at Winston & Strawn. See attached case abstract template definitions.
Each complete exonoree case file was mined by two separate volunteers – in almost all cases Winston & Strawn attorneys or summer associates (typically law students that have completed their second year of law school). A few files were also assigned out to second-year law students at the University of Illinois School of Law and Northwestern University School of Law. All volunteers were given oral training and written instructions regarding the process for entering data into the electronic abstract templates and the nature of the terms applied in the templates.
Upon completion of a template abstract for an exonoree file, the template prompts volunteers to submit the template for "Final Complete Submission." The template design disallows final submissions for templates that do not contain a response for every field. Volunteers may respond "N/A" to questions that do not address the facts of their assigned exonoree. (For example, the template contains fields that allow miners to identify multiple eye witnesses where perhaps there was only one such eye witness described in the file). They may also indicate that they have thoroughly reviewed the exonoree file and were unable to identify an answer. Final submission triggers an email notification to the project managers and also revokes the volunteer's access to the extranet site housing the templates. Most volunteers completed the file review and uploaded a final abstract template data within 30-40 hours.
After a file has been mined twice (by two separate volunteers), a paralegal "reconciles" the two completed abstracts to create a final version abstract. The reconciliation process requires that paralegals confirm that all fields contain an appropriately formatted response; and review and research any conflicting responses to confirm appropriate response(s). After the reconciliation is completed, the final version case abstract is uploaded to the Innocence Record database.