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Googling Jurors During Jury Selection Is Permissible in NJ

Posted by Frank Steinberg | Sep 30, 2010 | 0 Comments

This case is interesting.  Although it grows out of a medical malpractice case, part of it could affect every civil trial in NJ state court, including employment cases.

The case is Carino v. Muenzen.

During jury selection – or "voir dire" as it's known in the trade – the plaintiff's attorney began to use his laptop, which had wireless access through a court-provided connection, to gather information on the prospective jurors.  Trying to learn about possible jurors is completely acceptable and is done all the time.

In this case, however, the defense attorney did not have a laptop in court and thus could not conduct the same kind of real-time research.

The trial judge decided that plaintiff's access to online information gave him an unfair advantage and forced the attorney to stop using his laptop.  The judge believed that he had the authority to make the ruling based upon his discretionary authority to control the conduct of proceedings in his courtroom.

The court of appeals disagreed and said that the trial court was wrong and that counsel should have been allowed to continue his research.

Despite the deference we normally show a judge's discretion in controlling the courtroom, we are constrained in this case to conclude that the judge acted unreasonably in preventing use of the internet by Joseph's counsel. There was no suggestion that counsel's use of the computer was in any way disruptive. That he had the foresight to bring his laptop computer to court, and defense counsel did not, simply cannot serve as a basis for judicial intervention in the name of "fairness" or maintaining "a level playing field." The "playing field" was, in fact, already "level" because internet access was open to both counsel, even if only one of them chose to utilize it.

So if you're an attorney, don't leave the laptop at home.  And if you're a potential juror, remember that information about you is accessible and can be used in court.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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