The Patriot News reports on a Bonusgate defense lawyer saying Twitter is preventing a fair trial for his client.
We’re a state that doesn’t, without special order, allow cameras in the courtroom.
So it was only a matter of time, then, that “tweeting” — the instantaneous posting of short, in-the-moment updates to voluntary recipients — would set Pennsylvania’s criminal justice world scrambling for the law libraries.
That’s exactly what’s happened in Harrisburg’s “Bonusgate” trial, where former Democratic House Whip Mike Veon and three former caucus staffers, Stephen Keefer, Brett Cott and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, are standing trial on theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy charges.
Perretta-Rosepink’s attorney, Michael Palermo, has argued that reporting via Twitter could run smack into his client’s right to a fair trial.
He’s asked Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis to prohibit all in-court observers of the “Bonusgate” trial from publishing any dispatches via Twitter or other social networking systems, on the argument that real-time flow of information could taint testimony from witnesses yet to take the stand.
As jury selection began Tuesday in the case, reporters were still free to tweet away. But Lewis is expected to rule whether tweeting will be allowed when the actual trial starts on Feb. 1.
Several newspapers have rolled out traffic blogs fueled by Twitter messages from drivers. The New York Times and CNN send out headlines via Twitter. In Harrisburg, reporters like The Patriot-News’ Dan Victor have used the forum to pan for leads on a story that was off his beat.
For an institution that moves as deliberately as the courts, however, this type of in-the-moment reporting is still very much cutting edge, with very little legal precedent to go by.
“It’s becoming an issue more and more,” said Sam Bayard, of Harvard University’s Citizen Media Law Project, who noted just last week a Florida judge barred live-blogging at a murder trial there. “The rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction... and quite often, this comes down to whether a particular judge thinks that this is a good idea or not.”
This will be one interesting ruling...
How long before rules are created to regulate Twitter (and other social networking sites) in the courtroom?