As more courthouses offer wireless Internet access, trial attorneys and those assisting them now have the ability to hop on the internet during jury selection and check out the potential jurors in front of them. Legal Productivity has an interesting article offering tips for trial lawyers on using information on jurors’ social networking sites to disqualify jurors. As the author points out, a juror’s posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter, for example, can provide attorneys with a wealth of real-time information that may help them knock out bad juror candidates.
However, those attorneys who don’t come to court with laptops or Smartphones may not appreciate their adversary’s ability to quickly get this information and may challenge their right to do so. That was an argument raised by defense counsel in Carino v. Muenzen, a recent medical malpractice case from New Jersey. Before the trial, the New Jersey court sent out a press release advising that the court now offered wireless Internet access to “maximize productivity for attorneys.” and other court users. Taking advantage of that access, the plaintiff’s counsel searched the Internet for information about potential jurors during jury selection. Defense counsel objected, and the trial judge directed the plaintiff’s counsel to close his laptop. Since plaintiff’s counsel had had not told defense counsel before the trial that he intended to use his laptop for this purpose, the trial judge believed that plaintiff’s counsel had an unfair advantage during jury selection.
Plaintiff’s counsel appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling. Its rationale? Because the court had announced the availability of wireless Internet access in the courthouse before trial, and there was no state court rule requiring a lawyer to notify the court or an adversary about its use of the Internet at trial, the appellate court found that plaintiff’s counsel did not have an unfair advantage during jury selection.
Lessons learned: First, when trial is approaching, check whether the court offers wireless Internet access as well as any rules regarding jury selection and trial computer use. If it’s permitted, search away!