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Twittering on the Brink of Mistrial

We knew this would happen. It was only a matter of time before a juror would get caught tweeting. But twice in the same week?

First came the news, reported yesterday on (via AP), that a defendant hit with a $12.6 million verdict is seeking a new trial, arguing that a juror posted tweets to Twitter that show he was biased. The defendant in the Arkansas case, the building materials company Stoam Holdings, filed a motion for a new trial last week claiming that juror Jonathan Powell posted eight tweets during the trial using his cell phone. One boasted, "I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money." Stoam's lawyer, Drew Ledbetter, contends that the juror's tweets show he "was predisposed toward giving a verdict that would impress his audience."

Even as the Arkansas story broke, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that defense lawyers for former Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent J. Fumo moved to halt jury deliberations in his trial on federal corruption charges, contending that a juror posted messages to Twitter and Facebook, including one that said, "Stay tuned for a big announcement on Monday everyone!" The post provided "substantial evidence," the lawyers argued, that the juror had violated the judge's admonitions not to disclose the status of deliberations. (The motion is posted at How Appealing.) The judge in the case questioned the juror and allowed him to stay. Not long after, the jurors returned a verdict convicting Fumo of all counts. The tweeting juror is sure to be an issue if there is an appeal.

At the blog Litigation & Trial, Maxwell S. Kennerly concludes as to the Fumo case that the Twitter-ing juror is no grounds for a mistrial. "Sure, the jury is instructed to keep the content of deliberations secret," he writes, "but it doesn't seem the juror revealed any content, other than the cryptic reference to a 'big announcement' on Monday, which itself doesn't reveal any content other than the jury being close to a resolution." Perhaps, but if the tweets from Philly could be characterized as innocuous, those in the Arkansas case give the judge and lawyers there much more to chirp about.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 17, 2009 at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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