Judge 'Friends' Lawyer During Case, Influenced By Defendant's Website

from the wow dept

So we’ve had plenty of stories about modern technology moving into the courtroom, but the issue is usually over jury members using Twitter, using Google or using Facebook. And there was the one case that involved witnesses text messaging each other from the stand. In all of these stories, the end result is the judge getting pissed off about the fact that the tech had been brought into the courtroom. However, this latest story is really quite incredible. Apparently a judge “friended” on Facebook one of the lawyers in an ongoing case (via Michael Scott). On top of that, the judge was found to have Googled information about the defendant, and even visited the defendant’s own website — which the judge admitted influenced how he felt about the defendant. The judge later disqualified himself from the case and has now been reprimanded for these actions. Still, while I can understand a jury member doing some of these things, you would think a lawyer would know better.

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Comments on “Judge 'Friends' Lawyer During Case, Influenced By Defendant's Website”

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20 Comments
bulljustin (profile) says:

Yeah, but...

Reading the article it sounds like the lawyers were misrepresenting facts in the case – “[friended counsel] later posted a Facebook reference to the issue of whether his client had had an affair, saying “How do I prove a negative?”” and “[The judge] told investigators the poem [found on opposing counsel’s website] had suggested that [opposing counsel’s] client was not as bitter as he first thought and had given him hope for the litigants’ children.”

So a lawyer was not truly representing the facts in a case, a judge, whose job it is to discern the truth, had to go around the standard judicial proceedings to find the truth of the matter. Sounds like he was trying to do his job. He could still have used the web to research the situation and influence his decision without getting “personally” involved.

That said, he was out of line for friending only one of the lawyers. If both lawyers were not on fb then he should not have friended either. I’ve always thought the term “friend” was overused on any social site. I have a lot more acquaintances and people I barely knew in high school than actual friends on fb, but they are all called friends.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think this kind of thing is actually how the law was intended to be handled. I don’t see anything wrong with a judge learning information about the sides presenting in the cases. I don’t think one side of counsel should have had direct contact via facebook without the other having the same opportunity, but that little mistake I do not believe would cripple the trial (as there are records of their correspondence).

We have too much separation between a trial and the person. A judge getting to know the person he is trying is much more likely to be able to make a more accurate ruling than based purely on two very dramatic and inaccurate sides spouting off their stories. It can go either way, a judge may learn about the person and decided that he sides with him, that he is actually a good person, and lessen the punishment. Likewise, he might learn that he is a horrible person, repeat offender, and lock him away.

The law is becoming far too black and white, right and wrong. Morality can be purely right or wrong, but the law will always have some gray areas that need deeper understanding. We have progressively headed to more black and white criminal/civil punishments over the years and it’s causing all kinds of problems with our legal system.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Wait, so you’re saying you would want to be judged on how a judge felt about you personally rather than the facts of your case?? Seriously?

I agree with you this kind of thing could go in any direction, like say: The judge could get duped by a stupid poem the guy copied onto his website to impress his girlfriend, and decide that he is a good guy, so screw the facts!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I know you misposted this, but I want to point this out. A character witness is a very different situation than a judge browsing your website to learn about your character. In court a character witness can be cross-examined and is subject to perjury just like any other witness. A website cannot be cross-examined, especially if the courtroom is not aware of what the judge browsed, for how long, and how he responded to the content. This is an extremely important distinction… you have the right to rebuttal and cross-examination of character witnesses. No person’s real character can be learned solely by browsing web content they chose to post (whether negative or positive material, this does not tell you why they posted it).

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Well, the whole friending the lawyer thing was just plain dumb. They both should know better. However, I don’t see a problem with googling the people involved. If you are a public figure, you will have a public image which may influence a judge. If you are an actor with the public image of being an asshole, tell me that it will not influence the judge if ever someone sues you for slander. Websites are part of your public image. Now of course, that is more of a problem under the adversarial system where the point is letting both parties present their side of the story as opposed to the inquisitorial system where the point is to gather as much information as is necessary to make a good decision.

rwahrens (profile) says:

however

The real problem here is that the judge was going out of the realm of the courtroom for information.

Our system expects the judge and the jury to get their information about a case IN THE COURTROOM. The reason is that whatever is obtained outside of that venue is not controlled for veracity, accuracy or bias. The opposing side has no information on what is being accessed, thus no opportunity to refute that information or present a balancing picture.

The courtroom is a controlled environment where ALL the evidence can be presented under controlled conditions and preserved in the case of an appeal. If the judge gets half of his information from the plaintiff’s website, how can the defendant present that information to an appeals court if the plaintiff then kills the site before the appeal can be heard? Both sides in the courtroom can present their evidence in the same way, under the same circumstances, eliminating the chances of conditional bias introduced by a different venue.

The rules are there because of centuries of experience in eliminating bias and making justice as impartial as possible.

Operate outside of those rules, and justice suffers fast.

NullOp says:

Da Judge

Lawyers ALWAYS misrepresent facts! Its what they do. They offer up a ‘logical’ interpretation of events that shows the defendant guilty or not guilty, whichever.

As for a judge doing the things described. It sounds like a case for removing him from office. He has simply crossed the line by getting involved in such as way.

Justice impartial? The law has nothing to do with justice!

rwahrens (profile) says:

yes but

Ok, fine, maybe you’ve got a point, but the law sure as hell should be impartially applied, and doing what this judge did blows that, even the appearance of it, all to hell.

I don’t know what the standards are where he works for removing judges, but he certainly should be investigated and at the very least, reprimanded.

If people get the idea that the legal system won’t treat them at least fairly, the whole point of having one goes down the tubes. Yes, we all know that being able to hire better lawyers (or certainly more of them) get you a better chance to win, but most Americans at least THINK they will be treated fairly.

In bypassing the court rules as he did, this judge jeopardizes that appearance.

TheStupidOne says:

Silly

It is just silly that judges and juries can only rely on the information presented by the lawyers to reach decisions. The world is full of evidence, and with the internet it is possible to find a lot of it. A judge should be able to enter into evidence anything he/she thinks is relevant and juries should be allowed to do whatever they want to except talk to the parties involved in the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Silly

You can’t verify the information received, nor can you know what information they have received. How can a lawyer try to refute some “evidence” they don’t know you’ve seen? The world is full of information, not evidence. Evidence is truthful. Not all information is truth. What if someone made a website saying they have absolute proof someone didn’t commit the crime, that they saw someone else do it, etc, etc. It could be completely fabricated, but it can’t be proven to be fabricated.

VRP says:

Re: Silly

No, it’s not silly at all StupidOne. Lots of public information (internet) has errors and omissions rendering what’s there as untruthful, usually implying something that’s far removed from reality. As others have pointed out, that kind of information cannot be allowed into evidence because it isn’t capable of cross-examination. (As such it isn’t verifiable.)

In the courtroom, “voir dire” (testing evidence) is conducted in the juries’ absence. enabling the judge to determine if the information can become evidence, or admissible evidence, and put before the jury. All on the record, in case of appeal or judicial review.

VRP

JohnRaven,CHT,CSH (profile) says:

PSYCHO!

You do NOT want a judge or jury judging you on material they can get on the web. EVER!

In about 30 minutes, a decent hacker for hire could have a facebook, twitter, blog, myspace and everything else you can think about created to look like they came from you. And if you’re paying someone overseas, it’d cost the defense (or prosecution) about $100 to do all that and make you look however they wanted.

Without any checks and balances or verification or authentication of information, that could warp every case sent to court.

You read all the time of fake facebooks and myspace pages for teachers created by bitter (or just obnoxious) students… how would you like one of those brought up as evidence in a murder trial (assuming you didn’t do it), where the jury took that as THE TRUTH?!

Much better to work with the system as is, despite it’s many and gaping flaws, than to introduce the chaos element of the internet.

rwahrens (profile) says:

that's the point

In a courtroom, ALL evidence is subject to scrutiny by all parties, and can be examined and rebutted, witnesses can be cross-examined and re-examined by the original side (re-direct) – all ways of ensuring the information presented is fully examined by and fairly presented to whomever is making the decision, judge or jury.

The courtroom is closely controlled to ensure that the venue allows the full and fair examination of all evidence and witnesses, and prevents outside influence from intruding into the process. If necessary, a jury is sequestered to ensure their isolation from contaminating speculation in the press.

Since a judge can hardly be expected to sequester himself, he is trusted, as an officer of the court, to adhere to the rules regarding such outside influence, as are the attorneys trusted to not attempt improper contacts with either judge or jury.

This case illustrates how human nature can be expected to fail in both ways, for judge and attorney, and the only reason we are talking about it here is because of the judge’s use of the web in his improper activities.

Whether he used the web for his investigation or a newspaper, his actions were improper and should be treated as such traditionally are.

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