To ensure his ban is respected, he’s assigned a member of the sheriff’s department to track reporters’ Twitter accounts while court is in session. To get accreditation to cover the trial, reporters had to disclose their Twitter handles.
If there appears to be a tweet from inside the courtroom, Penny Mateck will report it to the judge. “He’ll decide what action to take,” she said. Penalties could include contempt-of-court sanctions.
Peter Scheer, director of the California-based First Amendment Coalition, said having a sheriff’s employee monitor tweets makes him uneasy, but it doesn’t seem to violate anyone’s rights because most Twitter feeds are already open for anyone to see.
Still, some observers are puzzled why e-mails would be OK, but tweets are out of order.
The judge, Miller explained, believes that having reporters constantly hunched over their phones pecking out tweets is more disruptive than sending an email every 10 or 15 minutes.
“We have been dealing with this issue of tweeting in court a lot these days _ but this is an approach I have never heard of before. It’s weird,” said Lucy Dalglish, director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
She wondered if there wasn’t a greater risk of inaccuracies when reporters at the scene e-mailed colleagues at news bureaus, who then put their own interpretation on emailed text and published it on websites or their own Twitter accounts.
Radio journalist Jennifer Fuller is equally perplexed.
“We’ve been taking notes in courts for years,” said Fuller, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. “If a dozen reporters put their heads down to start writing at the same time, couldn’t you say that’s as disruptive as tweeting?”
It’s not just Twitter’s potential to distract. Other judges worry that tweets about evidence could pop up uninvited on jurors’ cellphones, possibly tainting the panel.
In their request for a new trial, attorneys for Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, who was convicted of fraud last month, argued that tweeting by reporters distracted jurors and created other risks. The federal judge denied the request without explanation.
And a Kansas judge last week declared a mistrial after a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter tweeted a photo that included the grainy profile of a juror hearing a murder case. The judge had permitted camera phones in court but said no photos were to be taken of jurors.
Reporter Ann Marie Bush hadn’t realized one juror was in view, Publisher Gregg Ireland said, adding that the company “regrets the error and loss of the court’s time.”
Journalists understand judges’ concerns, Dalglish said. But the better solution is for courts to do what they have done for decades _ tell jurors not to follow news on their case, including by switching off their Twitter feeds.
One obstacle to reaching a consensus is that no one can agree on just what Twitter is or does. Some judges say it’s broadcasting, like TV, which is banned from courtrooms in some states. Fuller says tweets are more like notes that get shared.View Entire Story
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