A federal judge presiding over Peregrine Systems financial fraud trial (wikipedia) dismissed a juror yesterday for reading a blog about the proceedings. Judge Thomas Whelan found the juror violated the basic rule that jurors not look at anything about the case outside the courtroom to ensure only evidence presented at trial is considered.
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Bruce Bigelow reports “[T]he judge excused the juror after asking him about comments he had reportedly made to other jurors in the case for the second time in three weeks.” Apparently the juror felt the case was ‘B.S.’ and thought it a waste of his time.
No surprise the juror picked up a defense bias after reading the blog. It’s written by San Diego defense lawyer Robert Grimes. Grimes was hired to write the blog by a law firm involved in some of the civil litigation arising from Peregrine Systems’ meltdown.
This is pretty serious stuff. One, with the dismissal of this juror, there are no alternative jurors left. This trial has been going on for 3 months. If another juror can not continue to serve for any reason, there’s a risk the trial would need to begin anew.
Second, parties to lawsuits know jurors are subject to influence outside the courtroom. TV and newspaper coverage came from unbiased reporters, usually with scant coverage on a trial. But now with blogs, parties with a stake in the trial equipped with a ton of information and unlimited bandwidth to report can kick out ‘coverage’ like there’s no tomorrow.
Even if a juror does not see the blog, who’s to say a friend or relative doesn’t see something and feel compelled to tell the juror? It only takes one strong juror to turn a verdict one way or the other.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin trial lawyer and jury consultant, Anne Reed: The moral is, as it so often is, ask and ask, instruct and instruct. Remember especially that many jurors can get to blogs — and the rest of the Internet — from the jury room itself, not just from home. Remind them that news means all news.
Defense counsel, let them hear it from you too. You don’t want your juror advocate to be sent home because he thought reading blogs would be a great way to stick it to the government.