Imagine you are in a New Jersey courtroom and have begun the jury selection process. When presented with one of the prospective jurors, you think that you have read about him or her in a recent article. As a result, you open your laptop and begin to surf the Internet to research the individual, but your adversary objects, stating that he or she does not have a computer. Will the judge rule in your favor? The answer is “yes” based upon the Appellate Division’s recent opinion in Carino v. Muenzen, 2010 N.J. Super Unpub. LEXIS 2154 (App. Div. Aug. 30, 2010).
In Carino, the Appellate Division overruled a trial judge’s decision that barred an attorney from using a computer to Google potential jurors during the jury selection process. There, the trial court discovered through defense counsel’s objection that plaintiff’s counsel was accessing the Internet to Google prospective jurors. Subsequently, the trial court found that plaintiff’s counsel’s use of the Internet provided him with an “inherent advantage” during the jury selection process that resulted in an uneven playing field because he had failed to provide notice to his adversary that he intended to use the laptop for that purpose.
The Appellate Division, however, disagreed, noting that whether an attorney can access the Internet while in the courtroom is not addressed in the Rules of Court. The court also declined to uphold the trial judge’s decision because the judge had not cited any authority that imposes an affirmative obligation on an attorney to notify an adversary of an intention to use the Internet during any trial proceeding. The Appellate Division also relied upon the fact that the vicinage or county where the trial was venued had issued a press release approximately one year earlier announcing the arrival of wireless Internet access in that courthouse “to maximize productivity for attorneys” and other court users. As noted by the appellate court, nothing in that press release, however, referenced a requirement that notice be given to an adversary in advance of accessing the Internet.
Although the appellate panel acknowledged that a trial judge is normally given great deference in managing the courtroom, it concluded that there was no reasonable basis for the trial judge to prohibit Internet access. In fact, the Appellate Division noted that there was nothing disruptive about the attorney attempting to do so and that there was no unfair advantage to defense counsel because both attorneys could have utilized Internet access if they so chose. Therefore, in New Jersey, absent promulgation of a court rule that dictates the contrary, there is no notice requirement -- let alone any prohibition -- regarding attorneys accessing the Internet while in the courtroom.