Summary of the Courts & New Media Event

by Sarah Prosory 13. March 2011 09:00

On Friday, February 18th 2011, I attended a FREE day-long conference titled, Public Understanding of the Courts in the Age of New Media. This fantastic event consisted of 4 panel discussions and a lunch with keynote speaker retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor! For more information about this conference, see here. Also, C-SPAN was there to capture the event.

As I rubbed elbows with some "famous" judges from around the United States (CA Judge Vaughn Walker of Prop 8 fame, for example, or 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski), I took copious notes to share with you! Here is the breakdown of the day, and a few cell phone pictures to go along with it: 

Panel One: New Media: How is it Changing the Coverage and Conduct of Trial Court Proceedings?

  • Used to have just pen and notebook, now laptops cause clicking when typing. iPads may work better because of silent typing so they can live blog.
  • Everything is about immediacy now, whereas in the past the article would be published the next day.
  • Now there are "citizen journalists", days are over for reporter who has time to search records. 
  • People are uncomfortable with the idea that their records are so public that someone could be sitting in their pajamas looking at their court records. While public access has always been there, a person would have to go down to the courthouse to retrieve the public records.
  • Judges  "control the setting" as to what they permit in their courtroom, and judges want the public to know/see what goes on in court
  • Question: do courts have an obligation to do more than just be open? For example, send out press releases?
    • This would be difficult because then Judges would have to determine what is press worthy. There isn't enough time for this.
    • A suggestion was that Judges put a synopsis at the begining without the legal vocabulary for journalists.
    • In Maricopa County, they don't prepare a list for the press, but wait for interest shown from press to provide information.
  • Question: Is the availability of online information keeping the public out of the courtroom?
    • Public no longer clamoring to get into courtroom. To Kill a Mockingbird courtroom scene is a fantasy now.
    • Now you can listen & watch trials of the 9th circuit online, which is great for lawyers too- to watch other lawyers in trial.
  • Question: Is there witness intimidation with live-streaming trials?
    • There aren't enough cameras to record everything. A protocol is in the works for when to turn the camera on or off.
    • There is reluctance for cameras in courtroom but different than live-blogging.
    • Shouldn't be all or nothing, could have camera but not live, shown after trial ends. Don't want exceptions to be the rule.
  • Question: Would people decide not to file a case because of the publicity?
    • Cameras could make it complicated: lower crime because not want to be on camera? not come forward with information in a case because would be on camera?
  • Question: Jurors are doing more research on their own. Is this because they don't trust what info the lawyers are giving them?
    • Instinctively we google. It should be about instruction & control of courtroom from the Judge. 
    • Jurors should be told not to worry about anything except what is going on in the courtroom. Judges need to be firm.
    • If jurors Google, then it will be a mistrial and a trial will be held on the juror. Must be firm. They should risk a fine or jail.
    • ABA is developing (has developed?) a program/process where jurors can submit questions to lawyers in the case- then jurors won't feel the need to look things up themselves.

Panel Two: Anonymous No Longer? The Federal Courts of Appeals and the New Media

  • Law school students are writing up Federal Court of Appeals media alerts (see ABA website about it here)
    • A daily service that has key cases of the day from that court, posted by 10:30am
    • Professors oversee students who write the summaries
  • Appeals opinions aren't attention grabbing- obligation of court to write them clearer for public understanding
  • Cameras in one appeals court was manned by students of nearby law school. The law school library archived recordings.
  • Question: Why resistance?
    • All judges of court must agree to allow cameras
    • Assumption that there will be tons of media request- not so because not enough time or money
    • Should not be ashamed to show cases
    • Good to reassure public- how well prepared judges are
    • It is the media's role to explain what is going on in courts- make information officer of court more available to media
  • Question: can judges do anything to correct misinformation on a blog?
    • Judges cannot ethically comment on a blog talking about a pending case.

Lunch with Keynote, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

 

  • Lack of civics education in schools, students don't know how the justice system works
  • No Child Left Behind focuses so much on Math & Science, no room for civics
  • Developed website: www.icivics.org aimed at middle school students
    • Play games to teach how judicial branch functions, also covers legislative & executive branches too
    • "Nothing I've done has been as important as this"
    • Teacher friendly and free
    • McDonald's gives free smoothie for so many hours on the website

"Shooting the Messenger: How Cameras in the Courtroom Got a Bad Wrap" from Judge Vaughn Walker:

  • Began with Estes v. Texas in 1962
  • No live telecast except opening statement & closing argument
  • Other notable trials: Scopes, Lindburgh
  • 1990- Federal Judicial Court project- cameras could be used with due process

Panel Three: High Profile Cases in the Digital Age

  • "New media" is an old term
  • Question: what constitutes high profile?
    • Media interest, highly unusual, political, dynamic issues, when the court gets lots of questions
  • No seats in courthouse, should treat all journalists the same, how many press passes is important
  • Digital ages makes it much easier to distribute information
  • Question: how do you balance press & blog access issues?
    • Media center is becoming more popular as no electronic devices allowed in courtroom. Media center located in courthouse, with screens showing live what is going on inside courtroom.
    • Newspapers used to have until 4 or 5pm to write story, now they must provide something on the website immediately
    • Transcripts would be great to get- costs money
  • In high profile case, used to give lawyers 10 minute lead to view opinion, but then a lawyer leaked it to CNN
  • Unfair to give one media outlet advantage over others, now only get 60 seconds then it is released to all
  • Immediacy v. accuracy
  • "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2011"
  • Our culture determines need for cameras in the courtroom
  • Barriers like no wifi a problem, indpendent court reporters have costly transcripts
  • Media knows to be responsible when releasing video from inside the courtroom- if they show jury, they will lose the privilege to be there.
  • Not everything needs to be recorded- jury should be respected, coming to/from courtroom should be free in interference or pressure from media.

Panel Four: Fair Trial and Free Press- Dead or Alive?

  • Don't blame press, judge should control courtroom, press will push as far as they can
  • "Bench Bar Press" committees- in Washington State and California
  • Press dislikes it when lawyers and judges tell them what to do- press doesn't tell them what to do.
  • Lawyer/judges have professional responsibility and ethics rules- press does not have ethics rules, unless local. 
    • Shouldn't print rape victim's name, photos of the dead
    • Should say "alleged" suspect
    • Websites out there that will show/tell everything- not respectful, like Gawker or Deadspin
    • Those journalists that aren't respectful should be dealt with individually not just blame all media.
  • "Nutty bloggers in pajamas"
  • Trial judge and press officer for the court decide on who of the press gets seats in courtroom, mainstream media first
  • Can they really decide who gets put in what tier? What is the criteria? Who reaches the largest audience.
    • Suggestion- to look at proximity to case first, then audience, and includes all media (print, online, news, TV, etc.)
  • Doing voir dire based on Facebook page- not doing that is hurting their client
    • Lawyers have been doing this for years- just in a different way, "new wine, old bottle"
  • The challenge is to make these two constitutional guarantees work together and happen. 
    • There are different issues in each century for fair trial & free press, we must define these issues.

 

Overall the event was totally worth attending, and I'd be interested in attending it again next year if they decide to host a follow-up.

Want to read more about the event? Check out these blog posts: one from the ABA and another from AZ Attorney.

Thanks for reading!

Juror Searches Wikipedia

by Sarah Prosory 17. December 2010 08:49

This morning I saw this Slashdot.org article about a mistrial declared in Florida because a juror searched Wikipedia for a term that was unknown to her. She was "just looking up a phrase". Despite numerous warnings from the judge to jurors to not research the case, the juror brought what she found on Wikipedia to the jury room.

This is nothing new. Back in January of 2010, a murder case was thrown out because a juror looked up a definition on Wikipedia as well. The Washington Post wrote a very good article about how technology has caused more trouble for jurors who need to refrain from using it while serving on a jury.

My pondering is... will jury rules need to change to adjust to our technology-filled world? Should lawyers provide definitions/more information to confused jurors, so that jurors don't need to feel that they should look things up themselves? All it takes is a Google search on a smartphone and they have their confusion resolved. Give your comments below!

HeinOnline- New Look & Bar Journals Library

by Sarah Prosory 6. December 2010 15:41

We are pleased to announce a new look to HeinOnline, as well as our subscription addition of the Bar Journals library! (Please note, you must be on campus to view these links automatically. If you're elsewhere, you will be prompted for your name and library barcode to access the databases).

HeinOnline's main page that lists all the "libraries" that the Law Library subscribes to has gone through a face-lift. Not only does it have a cleaner look, but they've added a few new links on behalf of the Phoenix Law Library. Here are some changes:

The Publication Title search box has moved to the upper right side of the screen.

There are now links to the Phoenix School of Law Library's website, catalog, and databases page.

 

 

And the best part... we've just subscribed to the Bar Journals library. This library includes over 70 state and local bar journals and newsletters.

 

Take a break, and check out the new look and new library on HeinOnline!

Final FastCase Workshop of the Semester This Friday Nov. 5th!

by Sarah Prosory 4. November 2010 12:00

Picture source

Are you an alumni of Phoenix Law and a current member of the State Bar of Arizona? Are you a current student at Phoenix Law and plan to be a member of the bar in the future?

Come learn all about FastCase! This SRU Workshop open to all students, faculty, and alumni, will help you discover an affordable alternative to Westlaw and Lexis that firms use to conduct research of a variety of legal resources including cases, statutes, and secondary sources. FastCase is also free to those who are members of the State Bar of Arizona.

Details: Friday, November 5th, 2010 at Noon in the Teaching/Computer Lab on the 2nd floor of the Tower.

Please note, this is our last FastCase workshop for the semester!

RSVP is not required, but is available.

Questions? Email or call (602) 682-6898.

Just Be Quiet

by Ted McClure 2. November 2010 14:07

Picture source

Just Be Quiet

by Brian M. Hirsch

Brian M. Hirsch is a partner at Hirsch & Ehlenberger, P.C., in Reston, Virginia, and practices exclusively in the area of family law. He is past president of the Virginia State Bar Family Law Section and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He is a Commissioner in Chancery as well as a Neutral Case Evaluator for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Circuit Court, evaluating and mediating divorce cases. He also serves as a guardian ad litem, representing children in custody, and abuse and neglect cases. Brian has authored several family law articles and lectures regularly at continuing legal education seminars.

This essay is part of Reflections, a collection of essays by and about Virginia lawyers that was solicited by Immediate Past President Jon D. Huddleston as part of his Virginia Is for Good Lawyers initiative.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. ... So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.


The events of the Book of Job are all too familiar to divorce lawyers, whether or not we have ever read the story or believe that the events actually occurred. We see people living it every day. People who had genuinely wonderful lives by anyone’s yardstick—a spouse, kids, a great career, travel, a lavish home, maybe a beach house, and perhaps much more. Then they divorce and that great life begins to fade, and what remains is often just a flicker. They are devastated that their spouse betrayed them. They come home to a house empty of their children. Their career begins to suffer due to personal distractions and days spent with lawyers, therapists, real estate agents, and accountants. They are possibly at the lowest point of their once-great lives.

This is the context—the setting—for most divorce lawyers’ cases. Our training tells us to spring into action—to “win” custody battles, support hearings, and equitable distribution trials. Often we are successful, sometimes not. Even after all of our hard work and dedication, our clients are not what anyone would call happy. We try to tell them that things are looking up; that tomorrow’s going to be a better day; that everything’s going to be all right. But, you know what? The reality is that it’s not going to be for a long time, and it certainly won’t be like it was. We are only telling them this since it is hard for us to see them in such pain. We are only trying to make ourselves feel better.

I have always found this hard to deal with—working hard and still not having a happy client. I would chat away trying to cheer them up. Things became a little easier one day when I thought about the two simple things that Job’s companions did for him—they sat down with him, and they did not speak a word to him, “for they saw his grief was very great”. They didn’t try to fill the empty space with words of comfort, since Job was probably inconsolable at that point. They just sat quietly with him. So, I tried doing that. Not long periods of silence. Usually less than a minute, when the client started tearing up or was in obvious pain.

I discovered that it was a sign of respect for their pain, a way of saying I’m here. I’m not your best friend or your therapist, but I’m here. It may just be thirty or forty-five seconds, while they sit there staring out the window or down at their feet in shock or sadness, or with a tear streaming down their face. No platitudes or verbal hand patting that everything is going to be just fine. Especially not saying that you know how they must feel, because you really don’t. Each client's pain is unique, their own.

After the time lapses and the pain seems to abate, we go on. I continue to be their lawyer, and just their lawyer, but maybe just a little more connected.

Used with permission from author. ©2010 Brian M. Hirsch

Brian M. Hirsch, Just Be Quiet, VIRGINIA LAWYER, Oct. 2010, at 62.

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