California Judicial Council Recommends Repeal of Law Criminalizing Juror Internet Use

In August 2011, California adopted a statute making it a crime for jurors to use social media and the Internet to do research or disseminate information about cases. Now, two years after the law went into effect, the state's Judicial Council has recommended that the statute be repealed.

The Judicial Council adopted the recommendation (item E on the Consent Agenda) during its Dec. 13, 2013 meeting (audio), and will advocate for the repeal during the 2014 legislative session.

The statute, 2011 Cal. Laws chap. 181 (effective Jan. 1, 2012, codified at Cal. Penal Code section 166(a)(6)), expanded the state's jury instructions admonishing jurors not to use the Internet, and provided that "willful disobedience by a juror of a court admonishment related to the prohibition on any form of communication or research about the case, including all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research" could be punished as civil or misdemeanor criminal contempt of court.   read more »

Web Restrictions Not The Answer to Juror Online Research

Juror use of the Internet to do research or communicate about trials is a growing and persistent problem. So, what can a judge do? For several years now courts have been giving jurors more detailed admonitions and jury instructions against educating themselves about cases online, to little effect.

A few judges have taken a different approach, ordering web sites with information on specific cases to remove the information from the Internet. But in a pair of recent decisions, appeals courts have said this method of limiting juror online research is an unconstitutional prior restraint.

Fifth Circuit

In Lafayette, Louisiana, several former and current city police officers maintained a website (, no longer online but archived here) that supported their civil rights lawsuit against the city for allegedly barring them from discussing or reporting what they allege is corruption of the city's police chief. Among the items posted on the site were audio recordings of a meeting discussing possible charges against officers who were in a bar after hours.   read more »

Instagram: Uncharted Territory for Courts and Journalists

As a Los Angeles Superior Court prepares to break new ground concerning defamation on Instagram, journalists look towards the popular smart phone app as an alternative platform from which they can reach new audiences.

The famous rapper The Game -- known for such hits as "My Life" and "Hate It Or Love It" -- posted a photo of his children's former babysitter on his Instagram account alongside the caption: "Beware if this person is watching your children, she is a very dangerous baby sitter." The post was one of several that concerned The Game's ex-babysitter, Karen Monroe.   read more »

Real or Fake, It's Protected by the First Amendment: Court Awards Fees in "Storage Wars" Case

StorageA California court recently held that an allegedly fake reality television show can be an expression of free speech that warrants protection under the First Amendment.

The plaintiff, Dave Hester, was a cast member for three seasons on A&E’s hit reality show Storage Wars. The show centers around the lives of a handful of bidders who compete in auctions for abandoned self-storage lockers across the country. The rules of the show are simple: the lockers are up for grabs to the highest bidder, but each prospective bidder may only look at the locker from the outside—which means that no one is allowed to probe through the inner contents of the storage unit. The show's talent—Hester and several other storage bidders—are portrayed with robust, outlandish personalities that cause them to get into frequent disputes with one another on-air, creating the perfect conflict-riddled brew for prime reality television.

The cast members of Storage Wars are not strangers to legal drama. Even Hester's infamous bidding technique, which consists of hollering out a loud "YUUUP!" has been under legal dispute. This time, however, one of Hester's legal claims against the show's network and production company was SLAPPed down in an order granted by the Superior Court of Los Angeles.   read more »

911, What's Your Emergency? Public Access to 911 Calls in California and Maine

PhoneAs California delays public access to prank celebrity 911 phone call records, a court in Maine has kicked things up a notch, pulling from one of over 500 exceptions to Maine's Freedom of Access Act (“FOAA”) to block public access to a 911 record in connection with an ongoing criminal trial.

In California, public access to 911 calls has caused a stir for news organizations seeking access to 911 records. The public's enduring fascination with celebrity 911 calls is nothing new, but a few pranksters in California have taken things to another level. California police have recently been having a lot of trouble with "swatting" -- an inside joke among pranksters, who phone in fake emergencies and bring police rushing en masse, sometimes with SWAT team divisions, to celebrity homes. For example, during a swatting incident in January of this year, pranksters sent over half of the Beverly Hills' emergency resources rushing to Tom Cruise's house, only to discover that nothing was apparently amiss at his mansion.   read more »

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