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District Court Asks Google and Oracle to Consent to Ban on Internet Research of Jury Panel

Following up on the district court’s previous ruling barring the use of jury questionnaires, the district court addressed the issue of whether any Internet research of the potential jurors should be permitted. After analyzing the reasons to issue an outright ban on such research, the district court explained that it would instead request that the parties agree not to conduct Internet research on the potential jurors.

The district court explained that “[t]rial judges have such respect for juries — reverential respect would not be too strong to say — that it must pain them to contemplate that, in addition to the sacrifice jurors make for our country, they must suffer trial lawyers and jury consultants scouring over their Facebook and other profiles to dissect their politics, religion, relationships, preferences, friends, photographs, and other personal information.”

Although the district court recognized the benefits to Internet research on the potential jurors, it also noted that there are good reasons to forbid it. “The Court, of court, realizes that social media and Internet searches on the venire would turn up information useful to the lawyers in exercising their three peremptory challenges, and, might even, in a very rare case, turn up information concealed during voir dire that could lead to a for-cause removal. While the trial is underway, ongoing searches might conceivably reveal commentary about the case to or from a juror. Nevertheless, in this case there are good reasons to restrict, if not forbid, such searches by counsel, their jury consultants, investigators, and clients.”

The district court then stated several reasons why jury research would not be appropriate. “The first reason is anchored in the danger that upon learning of counsel’s own searches directed at them, our jurors would stray from the Court’s admonition to refrain from conducting Internet searches on the lawyers and the case.” The second risk noted by the district court was “allowing counsel to conduct research about the venire and the jury is that it will facilitate improper personal appeals to particular jurors via jury arguments and witness examinations patterned after preferences of jurors found through such Internet searches.” The third reason was the privacy of the jurors. “They are not celebrities or public figures. The jury is not a fantasy team composed by consultants, but good citizens commuting from all over our district, willing to serve our country, and willing to bear the burden of deciding a commercial dispute the parties themselves cannot resolve. Their privacy matters.”

Nonetheless, the district court declined to issue an outright ban. “Such a ban would be within the sound exercise of discretion to protect the integrity of our process and to curb unnecessary intrusions into juror privacy. A main problem in doing so, however, is that the lawyers would then be precluded from learning information readily available to the press and every member of the public in the gallery. That is, with an outright ban, everyone in the gallery could have more information about the venire persons and the empaneled jurors than the lawyers themselves. Of course, the Court cannot control those in the gallery, but it can control the trial teams. And, lawyer surveillance is what leads to the problems above, so such a ban on the trial teams would be logical. Still, the Court respects the excellent trial lawyers in this case and their burden in this trial and is reluctant to order them. Rather, the Court calls upon them to voluntarily consent to a ban against Internet research on the venire or our jury until the trial is over. If they will so agree, we will so advise the venire at the start of jury selection and this will surely have a positive effect on fidelity to the no-research admonition. If all counsel so agree, counsel will be given an enlargement of time to conduct extra voir dire themselves.”

Oracle America, Inc. Google Inc., Case No. C 10-03561 WHA (N.D. Cal. March 25, 2016)

The authors of are patent trial lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. For more information about this case, contact Stan Gibson at 310.201.3548 or