Out of curiosity, I searched key terms, witness names and some party names of a few cases we are currently retained on, and a couple of things struck me. First, you get a quick sense of the high level issues that will need to be addressed in the case. It’s an interesting exercise to get a sense of what exists in the public sphere and what one could assume is “common knowledge”. Sometimes, the answer is nothing!
Second, this process led me to believe the notion of a juror’s attempting to “self sequester” against being exposed to additional information outside the courtroom seems naive at best, and downright ignorant at worst. Does anyone believe the jurors being selected last week in the Rezko case – despite the clear admonitions of Judge St. Eve – are not going to search the internet during a three month trial? Not once, not one little keyword search? These jurors – who have been asked to decide a man’s innocence or guilt and with that his freedom – are going to avoid the temptation to do their own research on key witnesses, facts or issues? Even in a situation where they don’t believe they have sufficient information on an issue? Really? I wouldn’t bet a lot on it in all honesty. It seems like what a lawyer would be doing, by assuming this is the case, feels like it’s taking a big gamble.
We already have confirmation from the Ryan trial that this research does indeed happen. (Full disclosure: Nextpoint was retained by and worked for the defense of Gov. Ryan, but we have no connection with the Rezko matter). We heard Pallmeyer’s instruction every day to avoid coverage and to not do research. There is no way there could have been any juror confusion that this was not acceptable. But the instructions seemed to have little impact (my post yesterday was on the diminished impact of authority figures). In fact, the juror was so comfortable with her internet research, she brought printouts with her into the deliberation room.
What are the implications for not just high-profile cases but any case? The original concern was to avoid exposure to a printed paper or a television broadcast. Wow, does that seem anachronistic compared to 24/7 access to those materials — and that’s before all of the other content that is available on the internet.
So does trial counsel now need to worry what is on the first page of search results when a key witness or party or term in the case is googled?