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Blogless DA Blamed for Blogging

I am surprised at how little response there was among legal bloggers to Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle story, Blogging Prosecutors Raise Some Eyebrows. Doug Berman weighed in at Sentencing Law and Policy with a statement in support of "every professional use of this amazing medium," Mark Obbie at LawBeat  endorsed First Amendment advocate Peter Scheer's comment in the story that DAs have a right to speak out and Legal Profession Blog commented that these DAs should consider the hot water Duke prosecutor Mike Nifong got into with his public comments.

The problem with the story is, there is no blog. Here is the story's lead:

"Ed Jagels launched a blog last year.

"Normally, yet another blog wouldn't attract any attention, much less a story in the local paper.

"Jagels, however, stands apart from the thousands of people who post their opinions online every day. He's the district attorney of Kern County, and he posted his discourse -- a one-page column detailing what he called 'shoddy journalism' by the Bakersfield Californian newspaper -- on the publicly funded county Web site."

This blog, says the article, raises questions about ethical impropriety, particularly "if prosecutors are commenting on pending cases." But read that lead again carefully and then look at the Web site in question. It contains seven brief commentaries in PDF format, four by Jagels and the others by a police officer and two deputy DAs, posted over the course of four months. The commentaries share a common purpose, which is to critique the crime reporting by the local newspaper, the Bakersfield Californian. There may be legitimate questions to discuss here, but to call this a blog is to sound the wrong alarm.

I was happy to discover that the National Law Journal got the story right when it first reported it in November, Angry DAs Battle Critics on the Web. As reporter Pamela A. MacLean accurately described it:

"Critical media coverage has prompted local district attorneys in San Jose, Bakersfield and Orange County, as well as a city attorney in San Diego, to take on local newspaper criticism by posting responses on the Internet through county Web pages and, in the case of San Diego, regular blog postings."

She distinguished Jagels' articles posted on a Web site from the one prosecutor in this story who actually has a blog, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre's The Aguirre Report. As MacLean makes clear, Aguirre's purpose in writing a blog is not to comment on pending cases but "to expound on the city's financial problems from underfunding of city pensions to bond debt spent for upgrading the football stadium."

Blogs raise any number of ethical and professional issues for lawyers. But we need to be careful not to sound the alarm over blogs where they are not the issue.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 28, 2007 at 05:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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