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Appeals Court Rules Counsel May 'Google' Potential Jurors During Jury Selection

Googlescreen Evan Brown's Internet Cases blog flagged an interesting case over the weekend coming out of Morris County, N.J. Brown writes that the courthouse in that county provides wireless internet access, and during jury selection, plaintiffs counsel in a medical malpractice case began using his laptop to "Google" potential jurors to gain additional information about them.  This led to the following exchange between the judge and the Googling counsel:

THE COURT: Are you Googling these [potential jurors]?

[PLAINTIFFS COUNSEL]: Your Honor, there’s no code law that says I’m not allowed to do that. I-any courtroom-

THE COURT: Is that what you’re doing?

[PLAINTIFFS COUNSEL]: I’m getting information on jurors-we’ve done it all the time, everyone does it. It’s not unusual. It’s not. There’s no rule, no case or any suggestion in any case that says-

THE COURT: No, no, here is the rule. The rule is it’s my courtroom and I control it.

The judge then prohibited counsel from doing so. The jury in the case found in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed the court's ruling that counsel could not make use of the Internet during jury selection.

Brown reports that on appeal in the case (Carino v. Muenzen, 2010 WL 3448071 (N.J.Super.A.D. August 30, 2010)), the appellate court found that the trial court's prohibition was unreasonable:

There was no suggestion that counsel’s use of the computer was in any way disruptive. That he had the foresight to bring his laptop computer to court, and defense counsel did not, simply cannot serve as a basis for judicial intervention in the name of “fairness” or maintaining “a level playing field.” The “playing field” was, in fact, already “level” because internet access was open to both counsel, even if only one of them chose to utilize it.

The appellate court let the verdict stand, however, because the plaintiff failed to show any prejudice from the Google ruling.

How do other courts handle this? In this era of iPad-assisted trials, it seems silly to me that judges would try to limit the flow of information to counsel during a trial.

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 8, 2010 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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