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. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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