Skip to content

Prosecutors blogging generates hot discussion

Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that prosecuting attorneys have started blogs to wage online campaigns tackling issues ranging from news coverage and court decisions to politics and their own accomplishments.

Attorney Diane Karpman, who writes an ethics column for the California Bar Journal, is no fan of it.

Prosecutors are supposed to stay above the fray. They have to give the public the idea that they are impartial, unbiased. Blogging could impair their ability to prosecute cases in a fair and objective manner. It’s not seemly, and I don’t think it’s appropriate.

But Kern County California Ed Jagels believes his blog is a public service providing an analysis of what he calls “shoddy journalism” in crime reporting by the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.

Further takes reported by Largos:

  • Charles Weisselberg, a criminal law professor at Boalt Hall, questioned whether writing a blog or online column is acceptable for a district attorney, particularly since prosecutors are expected to ‘re-examine their position when new evidence comes to light.’

    Legal scholars said prosecutors’ blogs could provide an opening for a defense attorney to have them thrown off the case.

  • Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, notes that an opinion issued by former state Attorney General Bill Lockyer in September cites state privacy laws in prohibiting prosecutors from disclosing any information that details a defendant’s rap sheet.
  • Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition andfFree speech advocate sees the trend as a positive move toward a more open government.’I think, in general, it’s a good thing. Doing nothing was the preferred approach for many D.A.s and certainly the U.S. attorney’s office. I think you are seeing district attorneys moving more aggressively to say, ‘Why shouldn’t we avail ourselves of the simple opportunity technology offers?’ I certainly think they have a right to speak out and, in general, it’s better than not speaking at all.’
  • Jeff Adachi, San Francisco public defender, questions whether a prosecutor’s foray into the blogosphere takes time and resources away from the job of putting criminals behind bars. “Your job is to take it before a jury, try it before a court. At a certain point, commenting “becomes almost an interference with the judicial process. But I think as time goes on, we are going to see more blogging.”

I like it. This line about trying your case in court and not in the media, or in this case, the blogosphere is bunk. So long as you’re not saying things that are so prejudicial to the case so as to interfere with a fair trial, reality dictates responding to what’s already being said in the media or on the blogosphere. Sure, you need to be careful, but it can be done.

The folks that say not to talk to the media, in my experience, are generally the ones less capable of doing so. It’s a cop out to say others who are capable of expressing themselves ought not to do so.

Update: Bob Ambrogi, as you’ll see in his comments below, caught my sloppy work of never looking to see what Ed Jagels was publishing. I got so caught up in whether a prosecutor’s blog was a good idea to even look at Ed’s. What Ed is publishing is not a blog, it’s links to pdf downloads on a static web page. Bob caught this is in his post yesterday. My apologies and will try to do better next time.