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online researchOur friend Charli Morris pointed us to an article published by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association focused on the online research of potential jurors. In the article, Matt Wetherington discusses ethical boundaries and looks at what constitutes a ‘communication’ with a juror. Given the nature of social media and the internet in general, he gives specific suggestions for gathering information from search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing, et cetera), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest), and resources for searching backgrounds (e.g., Lexis and Westlaw, state Department of Corrections, Spokeo and TLO).

He covers a huge quantity of information in four pretty pithy pages. He concludes with this:

“Admittedly, the vast majority of information gleaned from these websites will be unhelpful. However any helpful information can be invaluable and the success rate of these searches will only increase as social media usage continues to grow.”

About the same time, John Browning wrote an article for The Jury Expert that offers an update on the issues you must consider as you prepare for online research. John talks about the affirmative duty to research the jury pool and the ethical issues one must consider in such research. John concludes his piece this way:

“Lawyers are increasingly being held to a higher standard of technological proficiency and, as the use of social media platforms becomes more widespread, clients—and not just courts and ethics committees—expect lawyers to avail themselves of every technological weapon in their arsenal. Doing so in an ethical manner is imperative.”

We’ve written before about the painstaking and often tedious work of researching potential jurors. Shortcuts in doing that research have been found over the years since 2010 (when we wrote our post), but it’s still pretty tedious work with rare victories such as that unearthed and brought to light during the recent voir dire for the George Zimmerman trial. Instead of relevant information, you are more likely to find innocuous or potentially embarrassing information or the ever-present photos in random situations, but it is rare to find information powerful enough to strike a juror for cause.

We hope you’ll take a look at both of these articles. The two pieces, in combination, offer a terrific overview and initial strategy for your online research.

Browning, J. 2013 As Voir Dire Becomes Voir Google, Where Are the Ethical Lines Drawn. The Jury Expert, May.

Wetherington, M. (2013). Online research of potential jurors: A survey of resources and ethical boundaries. Verdict: The Journal of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (Summer)

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A new issue of The Jury Expert has just uploaded and you will want to see the work collected there.

Pretrial Publicity and Courtroom Umami 

Two trial consultants tell you how to throw a ‘spice bomb’ at negative pretrial publicity.

As Voir Dire Becomes Voir Google, Where Are the Ethical Lines Drawn? 

What is your obligation when it comes to social media research of prospective jurors or witnesses? What do you need to avoid in the process?

Do You See What I See? How a Lack of Cultural Competency May Be Affecting Your Bottom Line 

Used to be that we thought of ‘cultural competency’ as a “nice and politically correct thing”. Not any more. Now being culturally competent is essential to your financial bottom line.

Hackers, Hosts & Help Requests 

The Jury Expert is increasingly popular–with hackers as well as bona fide readers. And that is expensive. Help us out?

The Scared Witness: A Chapter from “Can This Witness Be Saved”

Ever had a witness who was not just scared but rather was truly terrified? Here’s what you need to do.

Why Telling a Witness That It’s OK to Say They Don’t Know Is Good for Justice 

Directly telling a witness they can say they don’t know if the suspect is in the lineup improves their accuracy in identification.

The Interview-Identification-Eyewitness Factor (I-I-Eye) Method for Analyzing Eyewitness Testimony

Here’s a three-step teachable model for assessing the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. For law enforcement, attorneys and jurors. One of the trial consultant responses on this piece is from Rita Handrich of Keene Trial.

80 iPad Apps Attorneys Love, 8 Days a Week: An App Strategy for Work, the Courtroom, and Your Personal Life 

Love your iPad? You’ll love it a lot more when you’ve read through these strategies for improving your work and personal lives. There’s an app for that!

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lucy and hamMy dog was bathed and groomed on Wednesday. On Thursday, I cooked a ham and left it to cool on the stovetop. There were workers in the house all day long and the dog was irritable and behaving badly. I went upstairs to check on work progress and heard a crash and a yelp and came downstairs to see my freshly bathed basset hound covered head to toe to belly in dripping ham juice with the broken glass roaster all around her (not to mention my ham). She was so shocked she didn’t know whether to lick the floor or herself. The groomer got a good laugh out of the story and at the miserable and greasy dog.

Then later on Thursday, I saw a story over at LexisNexis titled “In A Lurid Story Of E-Discovery And Ham, Magistrate Judge Tells Parties To Pay For A Forensic Expert To Sort Through The Data”. Coincidence? I think not. On the other hand, we do need to comment that while this is a light-hearted post, the potential traumatic impact of workplace sexual harassment and wrongful termination is very real, and not funny at all.

In this “lurid” tale of the HoneyBaked Ham company and allegations of both sexual harassment and retaliation–there are multiple elements to consider in the EEOC-filed class action suit against HoneyBaked Ham: social media, workplace climate, the emotional impact of victimization, pejorative labels, sexual harassment, retaliation, and what is private and what is not. HoneyBaked Ham wanted to assess the Facebook account activity of female members of the class action suit and told the judge they thought there would be relevant Defense information to be found via an e-discovery process on those Facebook pages. The judge agreed to the Defense request for e-discovery:

Judge Hegarty determined that “there is no question [HoneyBaked] has established that the documents it seeks contain discoverable information.” For example, he pointed to a photo one of the women posted of herself wearing a t-shirt imprinted with a foul adjective-easily the most offensive term used to describe a woman-a term she says a HoneyBaked employee used to describe her. Also on her Facebook page, according to the judge’s order, this class member shared her financial expectations from the suit, her feelings about the loss of a pet and a broken relationship. She also described her positive outlook on life post-termination, her sexual aggressiveness, her post-termination employment, her sexual liaisons, her income opportunities, and sexually amorous communications with other members of the class. The list goes on. (Are you ready to close your Facebook account yet?)” 

In brief, the judge appointed a special master to go through Facebook, social media accounts, emails, text messages, and so on to find any and all communications that might be relevant to the class action suit. A questionnaire was designed to focus the e-discovery so that not everything was reported simply because it was salacious. Whew. Does this mean there is privacy online after all?

Probably not. This is a cautionary tale. A veritable object lesson. And here is the lesson. Do not leave your freshly baked ham cooling within reach of an inquisitive and food-driven basset hound. And whether you work for the HoneyBaked Ham Company or elsewhere, do not post things on Facebook (or email them, or text them, et cetera, et cetera) unless you are comfortable with them being the subject of e-discovery at some point in the future.

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It is frankly amazing that this modest but important step forward hasn’t gotten more attention.  When Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she would have jurors sign a pledge to avoid internet research in the Viktor Bout trial, we paid attention. The New York Times quoted Judge Scheindlin:

““I am keenly aware that there are convictions set aside all over the country when we learn later during deliberations a juror looked up the keyword or the key name,” the judge said at the hearing, held this month. “We in the judiciary have been discussing this.”

A few moments later, Judge Scheindlin told the lawyers that she would write a pledge that jurors might be required to sign, promising that they would not turn to the Web to look up Mr. Bout or anything related to his trial until it was over.

Those who signed the pledge, Judge Scheindlin said, would be subject to perjury charges if they broke the agreement.”

Jurors researching cases on the internet have been a thorn in the side of the justice system for years. The act of researching and bringing information back to fellow jurors (resulting in mistrial) has been called the “Google mistrial”. The problem has gotten so pervasive, a judge in Minnesota has begun a single-subject blog called Jurors Behaving Badly .

While many papers covered the announcement that Judge Scheindlin was going to require a “juror pledge”, no one seems to have published the actual pledge itself. A widely circulated AP press release was published extensively as the trial opened, all it said was that the pledge had been signed under penalty of perjury.

“Twelve jurors and three alternates were chosen Tuesday during a daylong process. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin required all of them to sign a first-of-its-kind juror pledge, in which they promised not to research any of the issues or parties involved in the trial on the Internet. The pledge contained a signature line after the words: “Signed under penalty of perjury.””

This is a “first of its kind” pledge on a topic that has been written about extensively–with many recommendations for wording. We are grateful to the writer on Twitter who provided us with the actual pledge (thanks @kathilynnaustin).

Here is the actual wording of the juror pledge in the Viktor Bout trial:

I agree to follow all of the Court’s preliminary instructions, including the Court’s specific instructions relating to Internet use and communications with others about the case. I agree that during the duration of this trial, I will not conduct any research into any of the issues or parties involved in this trial. Specifically, I will not use the Internet to conduct any research into any of the issues or parties involved in this trial. I will not communicate with anyone about the issues or parties in this trial, and I will not permit anyone to communicate with me. I further agree that I will report any violations of the Court’s instructions immediately.

Signed under penalty of perjury. 

____________________________

____________________________

(Sign and Print)

Dated: New York, New York

October 11, 2011

Will it work? Or, as some say, will it simply put the idea in jurors’ heads to go do some internet research perhaps finding this transcript submitted by the US Government into evidence? We’ll have to wait and see. But jurors are already doing research and it is simply an automatic act for many to search the internet for information. Research points toward Judge Scheindlin being spot on.

We don’t think it’s gone far enough, but it’s a healthy start. The next steps include a clear statement of the potential penalties for juror misconduct. Not that we want to see people going to jail, but it’s useful for them to appreciate the full importance of their behavior.

Perhaps a signed pledge (under penalty of perjury) will alert them to not research the case front and center for jurors as they proceed through trial. Or at least, imbue them with a full appreciation for the importance of their agnostic role.

We hope so.

 

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What’s happened to Twitter?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

We’re seeing less overall Twitter activity in our observations (fewer RTs, fewer DMs, fewer messages overall). Is it Twitter fatigue? Hard to say. The demise of Twitter has long been predicted by the naysayers. And it’s tough to keep up substantive content day after day after day. (By the way, follow us @keenetrial!) But, like blogging, it’s now become something we simply do as a means of keeping ourselves fresh, sharing information we find of interest, and meeting new people we would otherwise not encounter.

This study, though, caught us by surprise. Most of us are aware of the struggles public opinion surveys have in contacting individuals for phone surveys since the advent of cell phones. More than ¼ of American households have no land-line phones at all according to a new report from the Pew Research Foundation. This makes it tough to assess public opinions (not to mention the growing number of those reached by telephone who simply do not participate).

Science Daily recently published a report on Twitter being compared to public opinion polls. While Twitter represents a subset of the public (likely younger, more technology comfortable among other things), the researchers found that “computer analysis of sentiments expressed in a billion Twitter messages during 2008-2009 yielded measures of consumer confidence and of presidential job approval similar to those of well-established public opinion polls”.

The study’s authors point to difficulties separating the ‘noise’ from actual useful information as they analyze ‘tweets’ but overall they are positive as to the benefit that can be gained from learning how to understand Twitter content as a barometer of public opinion. You can download a copy of the actual paper here. We’re not sure what this means for Twitter’s future but given the growing difficulty in obtaining good data through telephone interviews, there is certainly utility in researchers exploring ways to use the treasure trove of tweets that make up Twitter.

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