Depending on who you ask, microblogging service Twitter is either an inane distraction for people who are too excited about their lunch, a powerful and ubiquitous communication and publishing platform, or a dangerous tool that leads to breaches of security. If you ask Stoam Holdings, a building materials company in Little Rock, Arkansas, Twitter posts are also reason for a mistrial.
Russell Wright and his construction company, Stoam Holdings, recently lost a $12 million dollar lawsuit brought by investors. If Wright and his lawyer get their way, however, one juror’s Twitter posts before, during, and after the proceedings may be cause for a mistrial. Johnathan Powell, a Wal-Mart photo department manager who served on the jury, posted various inane details of his experience to Twitter throughout the day via SMS from his cell phone. While most of the updates were harmless, the appeal filed by Drew Ledbetter, Wright’s lawyer, hinges on Twitter post timestamps and whether some of Powell’s posts betray bias before the jury finished deliberating.
Powell told Ars that the judge issued fairly standard rules for jurors which forbid researching trial-related information on the Internet, but the judge did allow cell phone use on breaks, “which is when I was sending my tweets.”
During the trial, Powell’s Twitter use was one-way; using the service’s SMS feature, Powell says that he published posts via text messages but did not see posts or replies from other users.
Still, Ledbetter’s appeal cites tweets (Twitter posts) such as: “‘So, Johnathan, what did you do today?’ Oh, nothing really. I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money!” That was at 4:09pm. A few minutes later, at 4:43pm, Powell posted a second tweet: “Oh, and nobody buy Stoam. It’s bad mojo, and they’ll probably cease to exist, now that their wallet is $12M lighter. http://www.stoam.com/.”
Powell tells us that “all Stoam-related tweets were made after the verdict had been handed down,” which was sometime around 3:45pm. Regardless, Ledbetter and Wright, who was not present in court, are using Powell’s tweets to fight for a new trial. Ledbetter filed the motion on Thursday, March 12, and the prosecution has 10 days to respond unless the judge throws out the request.
Broadcasting from various private or sensitive venues is a growing concern, and Powell is certainly not the first to tweet perhaps a bit too soon. Members of The Pirate Bay tweeted during their “spectrial” last month, but some judges are increasingly allowing blog, Twitter, and audio streaming from their courtrooms.
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