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. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

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