Reporters free to tweet during #bonusgate trial
January 25, 2010 3 Comments
Reporters covering the trial of Mike Veon and three other “Bonusgate” defendants will be free to tweet to their thumbs’ content. Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis has denied a defense motion to ban Twitter from the courtroom.
Lawyers said they were worried tweets could influence potential witnesses’ testimony. Instead, Lewis has barred witnesses from reading trial-related tweets, as well as news coverage, in the 24 hours before their appearance.
Gene Policinski , executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, says that’s in line with legal precedent. “Putting restraints on the press and reporting in any matter, whether it’s new technology or old technology, is something that the Supreme Court has generally held to a very high test,” he said. “I think the instructions there are generally to look for the least restrictive method, the least oppressive method, in terms of what gets to the public.”
Advocates of free speech and journalism are happy with the ruling. Vic Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s legal director, says, “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.”
Policinski says Lewis’ decision is one of the first in the country on the matter. “The issue of using Twitter from courtrooms is relatively new for the courts, both at the federal and state level, to deal with,” he said. “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.”
Opening arguments begin February 1. If you’re not a witness and you want to keep up with the trial, I’d recommend following the Post-Gazette’s Tracie Mauriello, the Tribune-Review’s Brad Bumstead and Roxbury News.