Len Niehoff is Professor from Practice at the University of Michigan Law School, where he teaches courses in civil procedure, ethics, evidence, First Amendment, law & theology, and media law. He writes regularly in all of these fields. He is also Of Counsel to the Honigman law firm. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Judges All A-Twitter

Earlier this year, the Communications Lawyer published an article ("Of Tweets and Trials," 27 Communications Lawyer 3, September 2010) where I pointed out that the phenomenon of social media is forcing judges to rethink the measures they take to ensure that the trials over which they preside are conducted in a fair and orderly manner.

In that article, I focused on the impact of social media on the "gag orders" that judges enter against parties, witnesses, and attorneys and on the instructions that judges give to jurors.

My friend Dave Farrell brought to my attention an interesting piece from yesterday's online edition of the Guardian that can be found here. The article praises a British judge's decision to allow tweeting from the courtroom during the Julian Assange extradition hearing. It argues that there is no principled basis on which to distinguish real-time tweeting in the courtroom from the journalist's long-recognized right to take notes on what happens in open court, walk into the hallway, and phone the story in.

The argument has a lot of appeal, although questions obviously remain. Does the character limitation of tweets work against their accuracy? Is the real-time nature of the medium inconsitent with the kind of reflection that provides depth and context to a report? Should judges allow journalists to tweet in their courtrooms, but not members of the general public? If so, then which category do bloggers fall into?

Judges throughout the United States who find themselves presiding over high-profile trials are looking for answers. Are they finding any?

Stay tuned.

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