Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tweeting Allowed at Bonusgate Trial

Reporters covering the trial of former Democratic House Whip Mike Veon and three other “Bonusgate” defendants will be free to tweet to their thumbs’ content.
A Harrisburg judge had denied a motion to ban Twitter from the courtroom in the upcoming legislative corruption trial.
Defense lawyers wanted to ban reporters from sending out tweets from the courtroom during the trial.
They argued potential witnesses could break media embargoes by reading the 140-character messages. Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis has denied the request, saying it would violate the First Amendment.
Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, says the decision ventures into uncharted territory.

"The issue of using Twitter from courtrooms is relatively new for the courts, both at the federal and state level, to deal with. There have been a couple of rulings in federal courts early on. One banning Twitters by spectators, the other permitting a reporter to Twitter from a trial. There’s really no settled law on this."

Vic Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s legal director, approves of the ruling.

"It seems like a sensible and a reasonable accommodation to 21st century technology. It’s not something that should disrupt the trial in any way, and yet promotes the reporter’s ability to get timely information out about what’s going on, which informs the public. So I think all of this makes good sense."

Walczak says Pennsylvania courts’ ban on cameras doesn’t apply to whether or not reporters can tweet.
Potential witnesses will be ordered to avoid Twitter messages about the trial in the 24 hours before they’re due to testify. Opening arguments are scheduled for February 1.

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