Since 2009, Legal Bytes has been blogging off and on about the implications of social media to the legal profession and the legal process. Whether it’s judges being "Friends" with lawyers (see, Florida Judges Can’t Have Friends), or jurors networking about evidence or cases as they deliberate (see, When Pressing Suits, Judges Tell Jurors Neither Social Nor Media is OK), or reporters "tweeting" from the courtroom (see, Freedom of the Press = Freedom to Tweet), social media is a force to be reckoned with—and the legal process also needs to reckon with it.
The latest blip on the radar comes from the UK, where Joanna Fraill, a juror, has been tried and convicted of being in contempt of court in what is being widely reported as the first Internet-related contempt of court prosecution in the UK (and perhaps anywhere). So in addition to judges, prosecutors and plaintiffs’ lawyers being wary about managing their online relationships, and jurors being admonished for searching online for information regarding the facts, parties, or issues in a case, add communication between jurors and parties in the legal proceedings to the list. Ms. Jamie Sewart, a defendant in a trial in Manchester involving billions of BPS’ worth of drugs, was contacted by Ms. Fraill, one of the jurors in the trial, through Facebook while the jury was deliberating.
Ms. Sewart admitted knowing Ms. Fraill was one of the jurors when she "accepted" the request to be friends, and the case collapsed when their communication through the social networking medium was uncovered. Ms. Sewart’s partner was convicted and is currently in prison, but Ms. Sewart was acquitted as a result of this trial. In one exchange between them – the text has now been made public – Ms. Fraill sent a message to Ms. Sewart regarding the jury deliberations stating: "cant get anyone to go either no one budging pleeeeeese don’t say anything cause jamie they could all miss trial and I will get 4cked to0."
Now before everyone rants about the evils of social media, bear in mind that the same result would be obtained if the juror had written a letter, called by phone or sent a coded message by carrier pigeon. The fact that a new means of communication – the Internet – was involved doesn’t change the admonition, the rules, or the consequences of the conduct. Indeed, with Facebook’s user population at approximately 700 million, the relatively lax attitude toward anyone monitoring their millions of followers on Twitter (or who they follow – I generally just automatically reciprocate), isn’t it likely one of you is already "Friends" with a criminal, or you will be, or you are following someone who may be appearing in court any day now?
Communication between participants in legal cases has long been the subject of ethical rules, professional guidelines and rigorous policing. Issues relating to privilege and work product, attorney-client communication, and relationships between lawyers, judges, plaintiffs and defendants, are not new. But jurors wanting to be "friends" with a defendant in the midst of a trial – well that’s one I haven’t heard before.
Rimon has teams of lawyers knowledgeable in digital evidence and discovery, employment and social media, privilege and litigation, in the age of the Internet and mobile communication. So as I’ve said before, keep your browser tuned (or bookmarked) to www.LegalBytes.com for breaking news, and if you do need help, contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you work.
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