OpenCourt: Fertile Ground for Cultivating New Media Use Policies

Lora Bentley
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As of Monday, the district court in Quincy, Mass., allows live blogging, tweeting and Facebooking from the courtroom. iPhone? Sure, bring it in and use it. Tablet? Absolutely. Laptop? Yeah, that's fine, too.

 

It's an odd turnabout from a system in which jurors and lawyers alike have been punished for using such tools during trial. But the goal of the Open Court project, according to producer John Davidow, "is to bring the courts and what goes on in the courts closer to the people so they understand how the law and the justice system work in this country." And now that "citizen journalists" and bloggers outnumber reporters, it makes sense to allow the new media into the courtroom.

 

The project provides the court system with a means by which to address the technology while it is still relatively new and to make adjustments as it matures. Before the project launched, Davidow and project advisers met with court officials and attorneys for months, the story says, to work out the rules for the program. As Val Wang points out in a blog post, the group behind the project wants to

find the right balance between the public's right to know and citizens' rights to a fair trial and to be able to come to the court system for protection.

However, attorneys in particular are a little wary. Defense attorney Richard Sweeney said the idea of a courtroom wired for sound "is full of perils for attorneys." True. But they're perils that can't be avoided forever.


 

According to redOrbit, court officials in the district hope the OpenCourt experiment will help to establish guidelines for using the new platforms and technology in courtrooms across the country. It's a good idea. As in the workplace, social media has likely landed in court to stay. Avoiding that reality will only postpone the inevitable and create a bigger policy problem down the road.

 

What's happening in Quincy is "the wave of the future," after all.



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