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Another reason to bring your laptop to court

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What if a judge denies a lawyer’s trial objection without enabling the lawyer a chance to preserve the appellate record? At the next possible trial break, the lawyer can file the grounds for his or her objections. If the court is a federal court or other trial court that accepts electronic filing, that eliminates waiting in line for the court clerk to accept and file the document. If the courthouse does not have wireless Internet access, perhaps a wireless hotspot is nearby in the event the lawyer does not have wireless access attached to his or her laptop computer.

What if a lawyer forgets to bring an essential appellate opinion to trial? If the courthouse has  wireless Internet access, the lawyer can look up the case mid-trial if need be.

What if the lawyer is in a courthouse that does not provide a jury panel list until the morning of trial? Then the lawyer has the option to start searching the Internet about the potential jurors then and there. (Yes, privacy has become all the more a challenge to preserve in this Internet age).

What if the trial judge denies a trial lawyer the opportunity to search the Internet for information about potential jurors? Show the judge Carino v. Muenzen, Sup. Ct. N.J., Appell. Div. (Aug. 30, 2010) (unpublished). In Muenzen, the trial judge ordered the civil plaintiff’s lawyer not to research jurors by Internet from counsel table. The appellate court disagreed, saying:

In making his ruling, the trial judge cited no authority  for his requirement that trial counsel must notify an adversary and the court in advance of using internet access during jury selection or any other part of a trial. The issue is not addressed in the Rules of Court.

We note, however, that on April 25, 2008, the trial court administrator for the Morris/Sussex Vicinage issued a press release announcing that “wireless internet access” had become available throughout the Morris County Courthouse to “maximize productivity for attorneys” and other court users. The press release quotes the assignment judge as stating that the “courthouse enhancement allows court users” to “access online databases.”

There is nothing in the press release, or elsewhere as far as we can determine, that requires attorneys to notify the court or opposing counsel in advance of their intention to take advantage of the internet access made available by the Judiciary.

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.

Nevertheless, we have concluded that Joseph has not demonstrated any prejudice resulting from the trial court’s ruling. He has not pointed to a single juror who was unqualified or as to whom he claims he would have exercised a peremptory challenge, even though he has subsequently had the opportunity to perform an internet search concerning each juror.


Thanks to a listserv member for posting on Carino.