Twitter keeps hitting the newswires—in this instance, in a matter involving freedom of the press. You might have heard from time to time, especially in high-profile or emotionally charged cases, about judges who have used their power to control proceedings by restricting the use of certain communications equipment and mechanisms from within their courtrooms (e.g., use of mobile phones, video recording equipment, etc.).
From Pennsylvania comes an order from a Dauphin County judge refusing to bar reporters from sending Tweets during the course of a public and high-profile trial. In response to a motion by the defendants counsel, Judge Lewis, in a brief order, noted that “. . . to impose the proposed restriction would be premature and that the restriction itself is overly broad.”
In this particular case, the defendants were concerned that reporters, using Twitter inside the courtroom, would broadcast witnesses testimony, which could then be read or seen by other witnesses who were yet to testify. While refusing to ban Twitter to reporters, the judge did order the witnesses to avoid reading or listening to reports concerning the trial.
As icing on the cake, our own Rimon lawyers, Tom McGough, Mark Tamburri and Tom Pohl, won the order on behalf of the Associated Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Yes, Virginia, there is a place for social media in jurisprudence.
If you remember, Twitter was also the subject of some controversy in Pittsburgh during the G20 Summit last year. In that case, involving freedom of speech, police in Pittsburgh arrested a man who was using Twitter to send messages about the movements of police officers as protests were unfolding. Although the police sought to charge the man with aiding an illegal protest, the man was broadcasting what was easily visible in plain sight.
While commercial cases often involve money or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, cases are emerging that involve fundamental Constitutional rights. The law will need to move quickly into the digital and social media age in order to keep up. Some courts and judges are doing just that!
Need to know more? Contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.