No Text Messages While Testifying, Judge Rules

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Here's one to add to your list of Places Where Texting Is Not Appropriate: the witness stand.

A judge in Miami declared a mistrial on Wednesday after he learned that a witness for the plaintiff in a property dispute had been sending text messages during a sidebar.  The unidentified spectator who noticed the texting said it appeared that the witness, who is the COO of a company called Sky Development, was text-messaging the company's CEO who was sitting with the attorneys at counsel table.  They admitted to this when questioned by the judge.  One text seemed to be mostly expressing frustration, but the other involved the date when a particular document had been received.  It was not clear from the report whether the latter was a significant issue in the case, but it may not have mattered.

Judge Scott Silverman called the conduct outrageous.  Several times, in fact.  And he also used adverbs.

"Let me be really frank about this," he said to the CEO, Yizhak Toledano.  "I [have] never had this happen before.  This is completely outrageous, absolutely outrageous."  Toledano noted that it was during a break in proceedings, thus missing the point entirely.  "It doesn't matter," Silverman said.  "You are communicating about the case and the subject matter of the case with a witness who is currently under oath and before the jury."  Toledano still was not getting it.  "I'm sorry," he said, "[it was] after we took the break, it's not in the middle."  "After the break" I think would mean during the witness's continued testimony, and so would not be any better.  But whatever Toledano meant, it didn't make the judge any happier, and he declared a mistrial.

Blackberry So we can now add witness-messaging to the list of problems caused by communications technology in the courtroom, joining the recent problems it has caused for twittering jurors and texting spectators, as well as its unfortunate results for blogging defendants.  It should be relatively clear by now that everyone should stop doing this, but I sort of hope they don't.

Link: Daily Business Review (via