Suggestion: Don't Text Message Your Boss While On The Witness Stand

from the that-would-be-a-mistrial dept

We recently wrote about a trial where there were concerns that a jury member was sending Twitter messages during the trial, but that’s nothing compared to text messaging while on the witness stand. Yes, apparently a guy who was being questioned as a witness, used a break in the action (as the judge spoke to the lawyers in the case) to text message with his boss, who was also in the court room and at the plaintiff table. After being alerted to this by a “courtroom spectator,” the judge declared a mistrial:

“Let me be really frank about this,” the judge said. “I never had this happen before. This is completely outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”

Toledano responded, “It was on a break.”

Silverman shot back: “It doesn’t matter. You are communicating about the case and the subject matter of the case with a witness who is currently under oath and before the jury,”

Toledano said, “I’m sorry, after we took the break, it’s not in the middle.”

The judge explained himself again.

“It’s a problem on your communicating with the witness about his testimony whether it’s before the break, after the break and during the break while he’s testifying,” he said. “This is outrageous.”

These stories of technology in the courtroom seem to be coming up more and more frequently. It seems as though very few people have really thought through the implications of the many channels of communication that every individual now has with them, and how that changes common assumptions about how people can and will communicate, even in “constrained” areas.

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Comments on “Suggestion: Don't Text Message Your Boss While On The Witness Stand”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I really don’t see the problem. Judges and Lawyers have the mystifying opinion about the courtroom – So, he said something while under oath via txt… to someone who was in the courtroom listening to the entire thing.

Whats the big deal?

I think its disgusting that plaintiffs, jury’s, Lawyers, ect, are not allowed COMPLETE information about anything they want to know about in order to make in informed decision – instead they are only allowed pre-chewed “Fit for your eye’s information”.

Let everyone have a cell phone, laptop, broadband, and access to Lexis Nexis while in a courtroom.

Attorney Repped says:

Re: Re:

If you don’t see the problem with allowing a witness on the stand to comunicate with the named parties in a case you need to wake up. This is a conflict of interest of the worst kind. This is essentially allowing the witness to “check in” in order to make sure that he is answering the questions the way the plaintiff wants him to. Seriously, wake up! This is not about some clandestine denial of information. The courtroom is not the CIA, there is no need to know. All parties are permitted access to all of the information. The problem here is that the witness’ text messages to the plaintiff were tantamount to wearing an earpiece and being fed the answers to the questions.

Dansmusings says:

Re: Re:

If I understand the article correctly – the point here is that the plaintiff in the case was texting a witness while he was physically sitting on the witness stand – presumably to influence his testimony. So you think it would be OK for the mob boss to send a message to a witness as long as “everyone have a cell phone, laptop, broadband, and access to Lexis Nexis while in a courtroom.” I don’t think I want to take part in that justice system!

Mike C. says:

Not too switf...

Maybe I just watch too much TV (Matlock, Perry Mason, etc), but since when was the witness ever allowed to talk (e.g. communicate) with anyone except the court officers. In other words, they could talk to the judge, the plaintiff and defense attorneys and the bailiff, but not to the actual plaintiffs, defendants or court room spectators. They were essentially “on their own”.

From the article, this is not the first time the plaintiff has been caught doing this either. Sounds like someone needs to address this issue with him.

As to the subject of technology in the courtroom, I believe you have to allow cell phones for non-participants, but have a solution for jurors, witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants. Perhaps something as simple as depositing them with the bailiff at the beginning of the day and retrieving at the end. Of course, to handle “emergency contact” issues, you’d probably have to have a dedicated phone in each court (or something similar). I do agree that a plan of some kind does need to be created and implemented soon.

MiamiMark (profile) says:

Re: Not too switf...

Just a note on phones in Court… many courts don’t let cell phones in the building…. e.g., the Southern District of FL requires all non-lawyers to check them at the Ct. House door.

If I get more time today, (and no one else has done it) I’ll address the very big problem raised by AC of allowing access to any/all information during a proceeding.

scott says:

What difference does it make?

These two have been talking before, during and after the trial (oh sure, the judge actually believes they aren’t – he’s the only one). So exactly why is it an different that they are now talking? None. If they hadn’t talked then they would have talked at the next lunch break, after the day’s trial, etc. It’s all a ruse to presume the courtroom is some kind of “sanctified” place. It’s just a room with a bunch of people sitting in it being people. Nothing else. For the judge to declare this is “outrageous” shows how over-inflated his ego is that he believes he is somehow a god that can make people behave differently. Laughable.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s different in different courts. As said above, some make you check them at the door, some don’t. But every court room I’ve ever been in says you can’t actually use them, and I’ve seen judges stop everything if they see somebody using a phone.

A courtroom IS a “sanctified” place, as it should be. It’s a place where people liberties get taken away, with very specific rules on how to do that. This kind of behavior is indeed an incredible violation of everything the court stands for. I think both parties should have gotten worse for it. In a courtroom, the judge IS god, what (s)he says goes. Yes there’s bad judges, but (from this story) not this one.

SunKing says:

Nursery stuff...

Oh come on now! As if they didn’t know it was wrong to communicate. The technology angle is irrelevant and doesn’t change a thing. It’s as plain as day! They were trying it on, plain and simple. When collared, red handed, the excuse was…..brrrrrr *drum roll* “we were on a break”. L.M.F.A.O. Seriously.

This is something a 6 year old would come out with. And about as transparently blatant too.

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