ABA Allows Lawyers To View Jurors’ Social Media Profiles

The American Bar Association gave lawyers the green light to view jurors’ social media profiles, ruling that its ethical for lawyers to search online for publicly available writings of citizens called for jury duty and even those in deliberations. However, the ABA warns lawyers not to “follow” or “friend” jurors or otherwise invade their private social media accounts.

Judges already admonish jurors to keep them from talking about trials on social media, but this is the first time the nationwide lawyers group has addressed how deeply attorneys, investigators, and consultants can probe into jurors’ and potential jurors’ social media lives.

The decision likely comes in light of several cases where jurors’ online postings have disrupted legal proceedings, according to The Huffington Post. These postings have forced mistrials and special hearings. Lawyers and judges have also wrangled for years over how far attorneys are allowed to go in assembling a jury with the help of online research.

A few judges have denied lawyers permission to search social media accounts while others have allowed it. One company has also developed a software product that promises to create a juror profile using the individual’s social media posts. The program monitors jurors during the trial as well.

MSN News notes that the ABA’s ethics committee began reviewing the issues of viewing jurors’ social media profiles about two years ago. They concluded in April that looking at Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and other information gathered passively is ethical research. Donald Lundberg, an attorney in Indianapolis, Indiana, who helped draft the ABA’s opinion as an ethics committee member, noted, “It’s like any other publicly available information.”

One of the more controversial issues for the ethics committee was whether lawyers could view LinkedIn and other social media sites that notify members that they have been searched. The ABA committee ultimately decided that a LinkedIn search was ethical. The decision was the opposite of an opinion issued by the New York City Bar Association in 2010. The NYCBA decided that any notice sent to a potential juror about a search qualifies as unauthorized communication.

While the ABA has held off until now in issuing an opinion about jurors’ social media profiles, at least two state bar organizations have addressed the issue. The Missouri Supreme Court requires lawyers to search potential jurors’ litigation history. The Oregon State Bar published an opinion in 2013 that mirrors the ABA’s guidelines and allows lawyers to access publicly available social media information.

The ABA’s opinion opens the door for lawyers to search potential jurors’ social media profiles for any indication that they already have an opinion on a case.

[Image by michaelhebb]

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