I didn't set out to cover that particular jury issue so heavily, but from the first week, when I set up searches to find topics to cover here, the juror blogs started showing up in my news feeds, so I wrote about them. Today, although (really) I write about other things, it's the most common thing I'm quoted or interviewed or asked to speak on, and there are probably more posts here about social networking than any other topic.
"He beats his hand on the jury box."
So here come two more online jurors this week, frightening lawyers everywhere. There's the Facebook juror in England who put a poll on Facebook to help her decide guilt or innocence. And there's the blogging juror here who knows she can't write about the case, but thinks that "doesn't mean I can't give people a a glimpse of the people I am dealing with," and so gives a great sketch of each person in the courtroom. ("The lead defense lawyer. When he is trying to make a point when questioning a witness he beats his hand on the jury box. "So you *wham* are telling me *wham* that blah blah blah blah blah BLAH! *WHAM*" ) The Facebook juror was dismissed; the word-sketch artist is still sitting, as far as we know. (And I have to admit, I hope so.)
This is going to happen to you. It's going to happen to you. It's going to happen to you.
Four things to add to your trial task list:
1. Ask. Ask jurors in voir dire whether they write on line and if so where. If you get a "yes" to that question, you have several tools: (1) the judge can strongly impress on that particular witness that she is to write nothing about the trial, not even character sketches; (2) the lawyers can keep an eye on the juror's site during the trial; and (3) if there's time, you can jump on the juror's site before the jury is chosen to see if it contains anything of concern.
2. Look. Simply running searches by jurors' names -- before the jury is seated if possible, after if not -- you can find non-anonymous blogs, of which there are many.
3. Watch. Even if you've asked and looked, you can still have jurors writing about your trial that you didn't know about, on anonymous sites they did not disclose. If you have enough people, assign someone to set up standing searches to try to catch these, using terms the juror might choose -- the location of the court, and the type of case it is. It also makes sense to check on-line comments to news stories about the case, where you have the staffing to do it.
4. Relax. It's possible that none of these techniques will find the Facebook juror or the sketch artist on your trial. Does that mean we're in a frightening new world with intolerable new rules? I don't think so. Remember that in the old days, both jurors probably would have had talked about the case in the same way, but in conversations with their friends, not on line -- and you wouldn't have found out about those either. If anything, it's easier, not harder, to find chatty jurors than it was when they simply talked.
Some of many related posts here:
- The Wasteland, one of the first posts on this blog
- A Trial Lawyer's Guide To Social Networking Sites
- The "blogging jurors" series, starting here
Scott Greenfield's take is here: "It's clearly time to change the instructions to cover this, and means that we have yet another responsibility to check the internet each night during trial to see what our jurors are saying and doing. Like we had too much free time during trial before." Exactly.
(Photo by avlxyz at http://flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/2077892948/; license details there.)