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In the latest debate about how to keep jurors impartial in the Age of Google, score one for the Internet.
In a California case heard in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Judge Thomas Anderle ordered plaintiff’s attorney Simona Farrise to take down two pages from her website that promoted her success in cases similar to the one she was litigating, at least for the duration of the trial. The court was concerned that jurors may ignore his instructions to jurors that they not do any independent research and see Farrise’s website.
However, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that that action went too far – even when considering that the attorney’s website was commercial speech, subject to lower First Amendment protection.
"The trial court properly admonished the jurors not to Google the attorneys and also instructed them not to conduct independent research. We accept that jurors will obey such admonitions," wrote Justice Steven Perren in Steiner v. Superior Court (Volkswagen). "It is a belief necessary to maintain some balance with the greater mandate that speech shall be free and unfettered."
It’s a difficult balance, but the court made the right call. The internet isn’t going anywhere, and judges won’t ever be able to remove all prejudicial information by judicial fiat. Better to rely on the authority and respect of individual judges to impart upon jurors the significance and solemnity of the task they are undertaking.
Posted: 11/27/2013 12:00:00 AM by
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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.
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