Court Rules No Misconduct Where Juror Friends Plaintiff After Trial Ends

Ah, Facebook in the courtroom. It’s a relationship that appears to have a long and tumultuous future ahead.

In Wilgus v. F/V Sirius, Inc., (decision below), the jury returned a verdict for the defense and against the plaintiffs, who alleged personal-injury and wrongful-death claims.  Four days after the verdict was returned, the plaintiff’s lawyer received an e-mail from one of the jurors, which stated:

[D]id you know your plaintiff[s] advocated the use of mushroom and week smoking, and binge drinking all over the internet? . . . It[‘s] really sad what happened but with all the work going into this don[‘t] you think you should have address[ed] this issue and known such things so they could clean up their acts before court? I’m just trying to help.[]  [If you want more info and insight [I] will help you.

The lawyer filed a notice of juror contact and filed a Motion to Conduct Post-Trial Voir Dire of the juror. The judge had explicitly told the jury “more than once” not to do Internet research about the case or the parties but the e-mail implied that the author may have done just that. 

During the judge’s investigation, the judge determined that a post-verdict response to a juror questionnaire stated that one of the plaintiffs “was a party drug [illegible] animal” and that the handwriting on the response was similar to the handwriting on the pre-jury selection survey that the e-mailing juror had completed.

The jury foreperson did not recall any discussion of material from the Internet during deliberations. The foreperson did, however, remember that someone on the jury had wondered aloud whether the plaintiffs had Facebook pages but said that “nothing else came of that.”  The judge asked the juror what information the juror had found on the Internet, to which he answered:

After the jury duty was over and the case was decided, I did the research that you said we couldn’t do during the case.

He found the information about two of the plaintiffs on Facebook.  He gained access to those plaintiffs’ Facebook pages by sending them friend requests, which the plaintiffs apparently accepted.  On their Facebook pages, the juror said that he found pictures that provoked the allegations in his e-mail. 

The juror insisted that he found the pictures “a day or two after . . . it was all over” and that he had not otherwise contacted or communicated with the plaintiffs. He denied that the information he’d learned online had ever been discussed during deliberations.

The court determined that there was no evidence to conclude that the juror discovered the Facebook pictures (or any other information from the Internet) during the trial or deliberations, and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, finding no evidence that juror misconduct actually occurred.

Wilgus v. FV Sirius, Inc. (D. Me. 2009) Order Denying Motion for New Trial Due to Juror Misconduct

For more on the relationship of social media and the courts, see:

Use Facebook, Get Arrested. Use Twitter, Get Fired.
In Case It’s Not Obvious: Don’t Text Witnesses During Trial
Michigan’s Supreme Court Bans Jury Members from Mid-Trial Twitter Use
More Stories from the Facebook Frontier
Ethical Implications of “Friend-ing” a Witness on Facebook
Discoverability of Facebook Profiles
Searching MySpace and Facebook for Job Applicants and . . . Judges?
Employers Use MySpace for Hiring and, Now, Defending Discrimination Claims
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One response to “Court Rules No Misconduct Where Juror Friends Plaintiff After Trial Ends”

  1. Thank you for this posting. Clearly, jurors’ use of social media to conduct research about a case is causing quite a stir. Kansas, Colorado, New Jersey state or federal courts allow it. Georgia and other states do not. Post trial jury interviews show that despite court admonitions, jurors want to know everything they can about a case in order to make a decision they can be proud of. An admirable goal no doubt. As in the case of other jury trial innovations, we are likely headed toward eventually accepting this tendency of jurors since it is compulsive behavior that is not likely to cease with court instructions. Instead of trying to cure the problem with an instruction, we might try a brief training or orientation session with jurors to quell their desire to look for outside information. We would also be well advised to conduct advance research on the Web to identify the information and sources of information about the case that appear on the Web in order to see it before jurors do and deal with it directly in court.

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