Scouring the Web for evidence

June 6, 2008
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It’s no secret that what you post online can be viewed by anyone – including a judge. A not-for-publication case handed down by the Court of Appeals Thursday involves a custody dispute, with the father offering evidence he found on the Internet to gain custody of his daughter.  



The mother, Amanda Thompson, never married Samuel Strange, so under Indiana Code Section 16-37-2-2.1(g) she had sole legal and physical custody of their daughter.  



Strange, after filing a petition for child custody determination, found Amanda’s MySpace page. On it, Thompson had posted a photograph of their daughter and information about her, along with profanity, that she was going to kill herself, and that she liked being “doped up.” Strange introduced this evidence along with proof he provided his daughter’s schooling, nurturing, caring, and support, and the trial court granted him custody of their daughter.  



It doesn’t say whether Strange came up with the idea to look for her MySpace page or if his attorney encouraged him to search for information about her on the Internet, but perhaps this is something more parties and attorneys are doing in preparation for their cases. Indiana Lawyer recently had an article about attorneys using free and low-cost Web services to find out information about clients, opposing parties, and witnesses.



We hear warnings all the time about not posting information online that you wouldn’t want others to see because once it’s up there, it’s out there forever. Is the general public still slow to catch on to this idea, or do they think that personal Web pages are off-limits in court cases?  
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  • Word of caution: when posting anything on line, whether it is on a social media site, or even a blog like this, remember that your comments are permanent, and without later edit. You can\'t say something you might regret later, and then real it in. All this communication is the wave of the future, and lawyers should do what they can to familiarize themselves with the various forms. But they should do so with caution. It can be a great marketing tool if done correctly.

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  1. Bill Satterlee is, indeed, a true jazz aficionado. Part of my legal career was spent as an associate attorney with Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Bill was instrumental (no pun intended) in introducing me to jazz music, thereby fostering my love for this genre. We would, occasionally, travel to Chicago on weekends and sit in on some outstanding jazz sessions at Andy's on Hubbard Street. Had it not been for Bill's love of jazz music, I never would have had the good fortune of hearing it played live at Andy's. And, most likely, I might never have begun listening to it as much as I do. Thanks, Bill.

  2. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  3. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  4. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

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