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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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