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ABA warns against 'liking' potential jurors

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Allen County courts have been instructing juries for the past two or three years to stay away from social media during a trial. Jurors are told not to log on to their accounts to research the case or survey Google maps to look at the crime scene or post anything about the trial on the Internet.

At the end of one court hearing, Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull was told by a juror that she did not touch a computer at all during the trial because she was so scared of violating the instructions.

Gull was pleased. Jurors, she said, should not be messing around with computers during trials.

Recently, the American Bar Association issued similar instructions to lawyers, advising litigators to avoid messing around with social media during trials.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 466 in April which says that attorneys should not message a juror or try to gain access to a juror’s private account before or during a court proceeding.

Lawyers applaud the statement from the ABA, saying abuses can easily happen given the extreme popularity of social media like Facebook and Twitter.

“This is an issue that is pertinent to today’s society because so many people participate in social media,” said Indiana Trial Lawyers Association president Mark Ladendorf. “As a result, I think it is something we can’t ignore.”

Ladendorf said the ABA opinion is a good start. He especially likes the document’s language detailing what attorneys should and should not do.

People chronicling their daily lives on social media has become so common place, Evansville attorney Joe Langerak agreed, that lawyers, like anyone else, may post information without thinking about the impact it could have.

Langerak, partner at Rudolph Fine Porter & Johnson LLP, has changed the way he conducts a hearing because of an encounter with a social media misstep.

The incident happened a few years ago during an out-of-town trial. At the start of the final day, the judge called all the attorneys into his chambers and passed around a copy of a Facebook post made by one of the opposing counsel. In the entry, the attorney boasted about his trial work and made comments about some witnesses.

The attorney was very apologetic, but Langerak was so taken aback that he had to walk the halls of the courthouse and think through the situation before deciding what to do.

He does not think the opposing attorney was purposefully trying to influence the jury, but now he takes preventive measures. Whenever he has a case that goes to trial, Langerak has a paralegal monitor social media and asks the court to issue an order regarding the use of social media.

The ABA opinion allows a lawyer to review a juror’s Internet pages and postings that are available in the public domain but it bars the lawyer from trying to communicate with that juror through social media.

Using the analogy of an attorney just driving by a juror’s house, the ABA held an attorney would not be engaging in ex parte contact by searching the Internet to find information about the juror. However, if the attorney contacts the juror online and asks for information that is not public, that is akin to stopping the car and asking to see inside the juror’s house.

Ladendorf’s firm always asks new clients for permission to access their complete social media pages. The attorneys do not want clients posting comments or photos that opposing counsel could use to undermine the plaintiff’s case.

As an example, the personal injury attorney said a client who claims a bad injury should not upload photos of himself or herself doing cartwheels.

Just like juries, Langerak wondered if judges could also be tainted by social media. Social media posts and comments about an expert or a witness could influence a judge to rethink his or her assessment of the testimony.

“It just doesn’t impact juries,” Langerak said of social media. “It has the potential to impact the judicial arm of the court.”

While jurors are being instructed, Gull said she has never had to instruct the attorneys on use of social media. However, she conceded maybe things are happening of which the court was not aware.

Gull, noting how much her children in their 20s engage on social media, believes judges will have to become more proactive as younger attorneys, clients and jurors appear before the courts. The judges will have to get more specific, she said, and explain what is put on the Internet cannot be erased.

Likewise, judges should be very careful about their own use of social media, she said. The bench has to avoid the appearance of impropriety.•
 

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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