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Law, Journalism Students Team Up to Cover Trial

Law, meet journalism. Journalism, meet law. The Grace Case Project is an innovative joint undertaking of the schools of law and journalism at the University of Montana. Students from both schools have teamed up to blog and tweet the federal criminal prosecution of W.R. Grace & Company and five of its executives and managers in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

The trial, which started Feb. 19, focuses on charges that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy and cover-up that risked the lives of people in Libby, Mont., by allowing them to be exposed to a particularly deadly form of asbestos. Until 1990, Grace operated a mine in Libby that produced vermiculite, a substance used in a variety of products, from insulation to fertilizers. The vermiculite was contaminated with tremolite asbestos, which is linked to serious illnesses, including mesothelioma.

Federal prosecutors say the pollution killed at least 200 Libby residents and left at least another 1,000 ill. They charge Grace with knowingly allowing the asbestos to pollute the town and then trying to hide the dangers from employees and residents.

At least one student from each school is in the courtroom blogging whenever the trial is in session, but their duties differ. The journalism students, most of whom are undergraduates, are writing as news reporters to tell the story that the jury hears. They also write background and explainer stories to provide context and clarity to the daily court action.

The law students, all in their second or third years, are charged with explaining the legal nuances and strategies of the trial. Their posts are meant to explain why the jurors are hearing what they are and the reasons for the legal challenges and rulings. They also provide legal background and context.

Each post on the blog carries an icon of either a quill pen or the scales of justice to indicate whether a journalism or law student wrote it. The student bloggers are also posting trial updates on Twitter under the name UMGraceCase.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 9, 2009 at 11:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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