Sunday, March 15, 2009

All A Twitter

When I first read this post, captioned "What a Twit" via How Appealing, my initial thought was that Twitter had invaded the jury room and had compromised deliberations.

The linked AP story made it sound like a juror had been twittering about the case during the jury's deliberations:

A building materials company and its owner have appealed a $12.6 million verdict against them, alleging that a juror posted messages on during the trial that show he's biased against them.

The motion seeking a new trial was filed Thursday on behalf of Russell Wright and his company, Stoam Holdings. It claims juror Johnathan Powell sent eight messages - or 'tweets' - to the micro-blogging Web site via his cellular phone.

According to the motion, one posting listed the company's Web address and read in part: 'oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter.'

Another described what "Juror Jonathan" did today: "I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money."

In his motion, filed in Washington County Circuit Court in Fayetteville, lawyer Drew Ledbetter wrote that the messages show Powell "was predisposed toward giving a verdict that would impress his audience."

See also, Juror's Tweets Prompt New Trial Request.

However, based upon later reports, it appears that the juror in question, Johnathan Powell, did his "tweeting" before and after the trial, not during. First of all, he sent out a tweet saying he had been picked for jury duty and had spent some time researching what's involved. Sounds like he was trying to do his civic duty, not compromise it. Afterward, he posted about the verdict. See Twittering Juror Explains Posts and An interview with the juror “who tweets”.

Here's what he twittered:

"Juror Jonathan" sent the following eight tweets out through Twitter before, during and after the case, according to the motion for a new trial.

Those messages were:

• "Well, I finally got called for jury duty. It is kinda exciting"

• "trying to learn about Jury duty for tomorrow, but all searches lead me to Suggestions for getting out if it, instead of rocking it"

• "I guess Im early. Two Angry Men just wont do"

• "Im the only one who brought toys: my laptop and a book"

• "I got selected!"

• "And the verdict is ... Penguin Eds can not make fries"

• "So Jonathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money"

• "oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter."
The fact that his ruminations about jury duty and the case itself came before and after the case makes all the twitter to be much ado about nothing. Just a bunch of twitter-twatter.

As Anne Reed, who blogs about juries and jury trials at Deliberation concludes, The One Simple Rule When Jurors Go Online, Powell's conduct didn't violate any rules:

He's right. There's nothing wrong with his 'tweets'. If we weren't so busy making the issue of jurors on the Internet more difficult than it needs to be, this story would never have gotten any play and Johnathan would be sleeping just fine.

One simple rule

Little band of people who read this blog, we can resolve this issue once and for all if we just tell every lawyer and judge we know that there is One Simple Rule for handling every case in which jurors access the Internet. One Simple Rule. Here it is:

If the juror had done the same thing off line, what would we do?

She reviews the circumstances of each tweet & concludes he's OK, since "after the verdict, he can say anything he wants to. It is, as they say, a free country."

And this gives me an excuse to post Jon Stewart's Twitter skit:

In the end, I think The Next Web called it: "This will make an interesting Law and Order one day…"

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