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Au Pair Judge’s Computer Crashed

November 10, 1997

BOSTON (AP) _ Glued to their computers, reporters and others who closely followed the Louise Woodward case waited for a judge’s decision today to be posted over the Internet. But the system crashed, and the word got out by more conventional means.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Hiller B. Zobel said he would decide whether to reduce the British au pair’s conviction, order a new trial or honor the jury’s second-degree murder verdict. He said because of public interest _ and to avoid a paperchase _ he would issue the text of the verdict over the Internet.

Media outlets were supposed to be given an hour’s warning of when the ruling would be posted. Using the code word ``authenticator″ to verify the ruling, reporters waited by computer terminals to see the first flash of the text.

As 10 a.m. approached, all the Web sites that were to post first word of the judge’s decision were slowed or inaccessible because of heavy traffic.

A minute before 10 a.m., when Zobel was to e-mail the text, the courthouse computer crashed because of a power outage in Brookline, a suburb south of Cambridge.

Television networks were live with idle shots of Web sites, absent of the verdict. Meanwhile, reporters scrambled for hard copies of the ruling. The paper copies were available for an hour before the ruling showed up on the Internet.

``There was an outage in the neighborhood where his server was located a minute before he was supposed to send it,″ said Whitney Brown, first assistant clerk magistrate for the Middlesex County Court.

By 10:28 a.m., broadcast media had announced the decision, but the text of the decision still was unavailable on the Web sites.

Zobel’s attempt to e-mail his decision was the first time a trial court has released a decision on the Internet as the first and primary distribution.

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