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Crazy Prosecutions, Lawyers Using Facebook & More


Uh, yeah. Of course they can be and should be. And it’s time the issue was addressed.

UPI has the story.

A high-profile defamation suit by a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official against a prominent conservative blogger may test the role of libel laws in the brave new world of the Internet, as one newspaper writer suggests.

Or it may be just an opportunity to reinforce the notion, shocking and strange as it may seem, that bloggers should actually be held legally accountable for the truth of what they say — like trained journalists.

The case in the District of Columbia Superior Court involves former USDA official Shirley Sherrod and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who posted a video online purporting to show Sherrod’s prejudice against whites as she addressed the NAACP in Atlanta.

Sherrod was forced out of her job, but the NAACP released a full video of the speech showing the portion posted online was taken out of context. Sherrod was actually making the case that all people need to be helped, regardless of color.

Of course if bloggers are eligible to be sued successfully for defamation, then they should also be eligible to be protected by journalist shield laws.

I’m just sayin’.


On Sunday, a group of city employees who are fighting being furloughed ” sent out an informational press release, which they stated was” a direct effort to bring to public light, the true cause of the City’s budget crisis…”

The group listed a bunch of areas the city could look to for additional funds rather than laying off city workers (like, say, themselves.) This list includes things like collecting those half a billion in back taxes that the city is owed and a similar amount uncollected fees.

The group includes employees from the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the Department of Transportation, Department of General Services and Department of Public Works. They have, they said, made this move apart from their unions.


File this under Prosecutors Gone Wild. Benjamin Weiser for the NY Times has the story.

Julian P. Heicklen sat silent and unresponsive as his bail hearing began one day recently in federal court in Manhattan; his eyes were closed, his head slumped forward.

“Mr. Heicklen?” the magistrate judge, Ronald L. Ellis, asked. “Mr. Heicklen? Is Mr. Heicklen awake?”

“I believe he is, your honor,” a prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, said. “I think he’s choosing not to respond but is certainly capable of doing so.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with Mr. Heicklen, 78, who eventually opened his eyes and told the judge, “I’m exercising my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Indeed, it was not his silence that landed Mr. Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor, in court; it was what he had been doing outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates a law against jury tampering.

Since Mr. Heicklen didn’t target any particular jurors or in any way try to influence the outcome of any particular case, the jury tampering charge seems a bit of a stretch. (cough) firstamendmentviolation (cough, cough)

In fact it seems that Heicklen didn’t even give his leaflets specifically to jurors but to random people going in and out of the court building, hoping to hit some jury members among those he approached.

If you read the rest of the story you’ll see that Heicklen is something of a character. But fortunately for many of us, being quirky isn’t, as yet, a federal offense.


It seems that Facebook is being used by attorneys—both defense and prosecutors—to determine whether or not individuals are suitable for jury placements. The Wall Street Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring the site for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial. They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are.

Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in Oregon, did background searches on Facebook to help pick a jury for a penalty trial last summer to determine if a convicted murderer should get the death penalty. He was looking for clues on how potential jurors might feel about the defendant, a man who killed a couple as a teenager in 1988. The jury imposed the death penalty.

Jury consultant Amber Yearwood in San Francisco found that one potential juror in a product-liability case last year held strident opinions on a host of issues, and dispensed unsolicited medical and sex advice. “Often juries offer opinionated people like that the perfect opportunity to wield their influence,” said Ms. Yearwood. The prospective juror was bounced….

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