"Is that a juror responding to a verdict in the comments of this blog?" That was the E-mail I got yesterday from sharp-eyed and generous Eric Turkewitz of New York Personal Injury Law Blog. Sure enough, it was.
"I would just like to ask that no one judge."
There are jurors who blog, and jurors who read blogs, so jurors commenting on blogs had to be next. In her excellent Trial Ad Notes on Saturday, the University of Washington's Mary Whisner wrote about a recent $5 million jury verdict against a Seattle doctor, in a lawsuit brought by the family of a patient who died. Mary's post noted the contentious and sometimes nasty on-line "sound-off" comments to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's story on the verdict. Later on Saturday, this anonymous comment appeared to Mary's post:
I would just like to ask that no one judge neither the Dr. in this case nor the family. I was able to sit and hear this case for the past five weeks and given the task of determining whether this Dr. was negligent or not. All I want to say is that this is unfortunate for all parties involved.
It's an innocent remark -- nothing here for postverdict motions -- but the fact that it's there at all is striking. If you're starting to get overwhelmed thinking of all the ways your jurors might be talking or reading about your case online, you're not alone.
The juror's comment highlights a different point as well, a point about timing. So far, this issue has come up mostly in the context of jurors who are on line while the trial was in progress. A more likely time to find jurors on line, though, may be after the trial is over. At that point, they're free to talk about the case -- and they're often still caught up in the case itself, in a way that makes them want to talk about it.
The reasons they're caught up in it vary. Some are simply impressed by the jury process itself, like New Jersey State Senator Robert Martin. (He's the one who wrote a New Jersey Law Journal article about the deliberations he participated in, and got the verdict challenged for his efforts.) Others are troubled by the evidence, as Mary Whisner's commenter seems to have been. Then there are jurors who see their verdict criticized, and take it personally. When Seventh Circuit Judge Michael Kanne, speaking in dissent eighteen months after the trial, called parts of the jury process in Illinois governor George Ryan's trial "totally astounding," the Chicago Tribune found jurors willing to defend their verdict as though it had happened yesterday:
"It's a shame that [the defense attorneys] feel the need to come after jurors with false allegations in a desperate attempt to get their client off," juror Leslie Losacco wrote in an e-mail. "I now understand why people despise most defense lawyers."
How can a trial lawyer hope to find all this? Set up searches, and keep them open until you couldn't possibly need them. Some ideas:
- If you don't know how to set up feed searches, preferably collected in a feed reader, it's time to learn. This skill will help you in a thousand ways, long before you ever find a juror comment. I've tried several feed readers and right now I like Google Reader best; it's quick and meshes well with Google's other services.
- Start with searches for the name of your case, plus "jury duty" and your city. Then expand to some of the words that a juror might use to describe the case without identifying it.
- Set the searches to scan both blogs and news stories.
- Most searches will pick up "main" stories but not the comments to those stories. If there's a blog post or news story highly relevant to your case, click through to it and look for comments, possibly multiple times.
- Let others know you're looking. No amount of searching could pick up all the possible places a juror might talk about your case. I see nearly everything about jurors on line, but I would have missed this story if it hadn't been for Eric Turkewitz.
(Photo by striatic at http://www.flickr.com/photos/striatic/1629269/; license details there.)