Technology

Twelve Angry Tweeps

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Last week, I said it was only a matter of time before Twitter gets lassoed into a lawsuit and it looks like that prediction came true…sorta.

My hometown made national news yet again when a building company appealed a legal decision after discovering a Tweep amongst the Twelve:

The motion seeking a new trial was filed Thursday on behalf of Russell Wright and his company, Stoam Holdings. It claims juror Johnathan Powell sent eight messages—or "tweets"—to the micro-blogging Web site via his cellular phone.

According to the motion, one posting listed the company's Web address and read in part: "oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter."

Another described what "Juror Jonathan" did today: "I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money."

Among other inaccuracies, the motion quotes Powell's tweets to describe him as an "angry" man who was ready to "rock" the boat. Powell admits to being overeager: Prior to his forced labor, he researched how to "rock" at jury duty. He also arrived so early that he jokingly wrote "Two Angry Men just won't do" in reference (one automatically assumes) to the other enthusiastic civil servant.

Wright's lawyer claims that his client didn't get a fair trial, presumably because the juror was influenced by outside information. The Brave New World is also barking at the heels of another trial in Philadelphia, where former state Sen. Vincent Fumo will appeal his conviction…on 137 counts. His defense will include evidence of a juror who posted messages on both Facebook and Twitter.

Here's Daniel Richman from Columbia Law School:

Our [legal] doctrine is not made for a wired universe.

The jury system is based on this anachronistic notion that members of the community will come in to court, render their decision and then leave and become ordinary members of the community again. We're coming into a world where the stability of that model is in question.

The two cases haven't attracted a lot of (negative) attention yet. That's probably because it's a politician and a company making the stink. It won't be long, however, before more serious cases arise. The difficulty in distinguishing crap appeals from real threats to a fair trial is going to be a problem. Currently, federal law gives individual courthouses the discretion to set their own policies. And that's exactly how it should be, no matter what else changes.

It's all a big mess. Here's young Powell with the closing argument:

The problem is that they don't understand what it is.

High Five: The Fayetteville Flyer

Jury duty at Reason here. Learn how to avoid Powell's debacle.