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 practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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