Spears Legal Technology


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Minnesota School District To Pay $70,000 For Accessing Student's Facebook Account

This one seemed fairly obvious, and a settlement was likely the only course of action for the school.

Riley was 13, in sixth grade, when she posted on Facebook two years ago that she hated a school hall monitor because she was mean. After school officials called her in and leveled an in-school suspension for what she said on social media, she went back on Facebook and asked who snitched.

“I was a little mad at whoever turned me in ’cause it was outside school when it happened,” Riley said in a telephone interview from her central Minnesota home in Glenwood.


Doctor Sued for Posting Pictures of Drunk Model on Facebook

The reprehensible behavior displayed by this doctor violates basic human decency, and likely won’t be corrected by HIPAA laws or an employee training program.

A former Northwestern University student claims that after she was admitted to an Illinois hospital for extreme intoxication, a doctor there took photos of her and posted them to social media sites with commentary about her condition.
. . .
Approximately 15 minutes after she had regained consciousness, Puppala, who was on duty at the time and knew Chernyakova through a mutual friend, visited her hospital room, according to the complaint.

He allegedly asked to view her medical records, and returned several hours later to take photographs of her "while she was on the hospital bed, crying and attached to an IV," according to the complaint. He then posted these photographs on Instagram and Facebook, accompanied by "attached statements of commentary" about Chernyakova's condition, according to the complaint.

Puppala refused to delete the photographs when he was asked to do so by hospital security, according to the complaint.



MN Prosecutor’s Facebook Posting Not Enough To Overturn Conviction

An interesting decision was handed down by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday involving whether a prosecutor's Facebook posting is enough to warrant a Schwartz hearing to investigate allegations of juror misconduct.

In February, 2010 Abdulsalam Mohamed Usee was convicted of attempted murder and assault related to a 2008 Minneapolis shooting. On the day the jury was to begin deliberations Usee's defense attorneys learned that Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Gretchen Gray-Larson had made a post on her public Facebook page that discussed one of the jurors and stated that she was 'keep[ing] the streets of Minneapolis safe from the Somalias'. Six days after learning of the comments - and four days after the jury returned the guilty verdicts - Usee moved for a Schwartz hearing, which the trial court denied.

The appellate court affirmed the denial by stating that Usee had not presented evidence that the jurors had been exposed to the comments and thus "did not establish a prima facie case of juror misconduct." The appellate court also noted that because Usee waited six days after learning of the Facebook post to move for a Schwarz hearing - until after the verdict was announced - the district court was prevented from taking any precautionary measures against juror misconduct.

Neither side came off looking good in this case. According to the Star Tribune article, the district court judge called both the prosecution and defense "careless, foolish and unprofessional." If the Facebook posts were as described in court (and the opinion suggests the only evidence of the posts was presented in the form of two defense attorney affidavits), one can only wonder what was going through the mind of the prosecutor. Even in the modern world of social networking, awareness of the ethical consequences of posting anything related to a client matter should be paramount.

State v. Usee, 2011 WL 2437271 (Minn. App. June 20, 2011)


Social Media Defamation Lawsuits Multiplying

Social media may have a greater impact on the legal system due to defamation lawsuits, not threats or harassment, according to Vincent Gautrais, who holds the Université de Montréal Chair in e-security and e-business law. This conclusion is based on a recent study examining criminal activity on the Internet, where it was found that 15 percent of all Canadian and U.S. Internet-based rulings were on defamation cases. In France, it’s 49 percent and in Quebec it’s more than 10 percent.

“We often tend to believe that the Internet has increased the risk of threats and harassment, but that isn’t true,” says Gautrais. “It is defamation cases that have increased exponentially with the arrival of social media.”

My take: I have no doubt that defamation cases are on the rise due to social media and other web-based outlets. Those most likely to bring defamation claims, however, aren't the average Joes but businesses and individuals who have the resources to protect their public image. Also, the average Joes might have more trouble proving the legal element of harm necessary to win a defamation claim.

So if Gautrais is suggesting that defamation occurs on the Internet more often than threats and harassment, he has a ways to go before I'm convinced. The threatened and harassed might just choose to respond in a way other than using the legal system.


Social Media Law Enforcement Guides

Family law attorneys and prosecutors may find this information particularly useful, but I think it's a fascinating read on its own.

EFF, along with students from the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley, filed suit against a half-dozen government agencies seeking their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collection, and surveillance.

Here are the results of the EFF's efforts.

Image Credit: julosstock at stock.xchng