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LEGAL CENTS: Tips for how far to push juror info gathering

Jane Pribek

If Clarence Darrow were alive today, he’d likely be Googling and “CCAPing” the venire before his trials.

After all, said Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer Ray Dall’Osto, Darrow famously understood the power of the jury as the key to trial victory.

These days, it borders on malpractice to forego gathering a little online intelligence about the parties and witnesses in a case.

But some lawyers, including Dall’Osto, of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP, take it a step further, combing the Internet for personal, public juror information.

Dall’Osto said the extra information is especially valuable in federal court, where judges conduct voir dire. He also knows state and federal prosecutors who routinely run criminal and sometimes traffic record-checks on jurors, he said, so “CCAPing” or digging around on the Wisconsin Court System’s website simply put him on somewhat equal footing.

“Facebook can be a gold mine,” Dall’Osto said. “People will put anything on there. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite all the whining about Facebook’s lack of concern about privacy, you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother to make their information accessible only to friends.

Madison lawyer Bob Kasieta, of Kasieta Law Group, said he regularly gets the list of prospective jurors a few days prior to trial and begins to round up information on them. In addition to Facebook, LinkedIn is a valuable source of juror information, he said.

Kasieta also runs names through lesser-known search engines such as Bing and Dogpile, he said, because occasionally they yield very different results from Google. He recently added Google+ to the mix. Though not too many people are on there yet, he said, it’s only a matter of time.

Other websites to consider include: Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Pipl.com, eHarmony and Match.com. Personal blogs or campaign donation websites can also yield helpful insights.

Though none of the lawyers I talked to have dug that deeply, the options are out there.

“I’m always amazed at how much more comfortable I feel going into voir dire with all that information,” Kasieta said. “I feel like I already know them.”

When trying an accounting malpractice case, he said, for example, he might learn a panel member has gone through a bankruptcy. He can then ask, “Hypothetically, if you were involved in a circumstance where you were having some financial difficulties, would you ever work with an accountant?” That starts the conversation and Kasieta doesn’t even have to point-blank ask about the bankruptcy.

Best of all, it costs no money.

It does take up time, however, which Kasieta conceded can turn into many hours of fruitless web surfing.

“You might get a list of 200 or more people in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and then end up doing a lot of research on people who never show up for jury duty,” he said. “But for those who do, it’s extremely helpful.”

Paid options are available, as well. They include Accurint, LocatePLUS and Intelius.

There are pitfalls to combing the Internet for juror information, however.

If it becomes apparent that you know every detail about someone’s life, that’s creepy, so be strategic in revealing what you know.

Second, there are lines you can’t cross. You can’t run credit checks on people you’re not doing business with, cautioned Dall’Osto. Moreover, a New York State Bar ethics opinion prohibits “friending” opposing parties or directing a third party to do so. That likely applies to jurors, too.

Third, you have to question the validity of some of the information you find. Milwaukee lawyer Mike Brennan, of Gass Weber Mullins LLC, said when there are, for example, several Smiths, Johnsons and Joneses on your panel, but no photos by the profiles, you can’t assume that the person seated across the courtroom is the same person you’re looking at online.

Fourth, not every courthouse prepares lists of who’s been summoned in advance. In Milwaukee County, Brennan said, names are released only as voir dire begins. That means your second-chair or paralegal has to scramble to get some solid info in time. While you could always try an open records request for the names, Dall’Osto said, that costs your client money and likely will annoy the court staff. But in the right case, where the stakes are high enough, it’s an option.


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