Good article here on a growing practice. Trial lawyers use the internet to find out background on potential witnesses, potential parties, and even potential jurors. This includes social networking sites to find out what the real story is on someone involved in a case. The article raises questions about whether it’s ethical to dig into potential jurors’ internet postings. Assuming there’s no hacking involved, I don’t see any problem finding out as much as I can about a potential witness or juror.
I can learn a lot more about a person from reading her MySpace page than I can from the stifling and artificial question and answer session of jury selection that goes on in the courtroom.
The interesting part from the perspective of those of us in the trenches is the time clash. Depending on the local rules, trial lawyers frequently don’t get names of prospective jurors until the beginning of jury selection. And often those are called out orally in open court, and you’re scrambling to record the name. Then, you might little or no time to question prospective jurors before deciding on whether to challenge or strike a potential juror. It’s that short window of time that is the most important to look for background.
Imagine that there are maybe 30-50 potential jurors being interviewed with decisions to be made in a matter of hours, sometimes less. The bottom line is that it’s very hard to do effective background searches under these conditions. Even so, we all try because a toxic juror who does not disclose bias in jury selection can unfairly destroy a case.
I’m totally transfixed by news reports on the Craig Berkman trial. According to this report, Mr. Berkman admitted that he falsified his personal financial statement. It wasn’t one of those tiny little white lies, either. Apparently, he circulated financial statements showing his net worth to be $25 million when he was actually $5 million in debt.
Short version backstory: Craig Berkman is a former Oregon guberntorial candidate who lived the good life as a way wealth investment hotshot. Apparently, that living came either from self-lending made without investors’ knowledge or from outright theft. (Or maybe it’s somewhere in between?)
There are a number of other misstatements set forth in the article, too. But let’s not rush to judgment. Mr. Berkman apparently still denies that he stole money, claiming, instead, that the borrowed it and paid it back with interest.
One of the striking things about the news report is that it shows that it took a lawsuit to get to the bottom of his dealings. Until lawyers at Bullivant Houser filed a lawsuit, the investors couldn’t get the records that sheds the light that forced Mr. Berkman’s admissions. I wonder what the story would be today if the lawyers for the investors hadn’t dug deep to get the records?
Can’t wait to see how this one turns out, but if I had to bet money–and I don’t–I wouldn’t be betting on Mr. Berkman here. At least not from what I read in the press.