Judges Using the Internet

Saturday, May 15 2004 @ 01:07 PM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

I get a lot of mail asking if judges are allowed to read Groklaw. The answer is, Yes. There are some footnotes with respect to what judges can use in deciding a case, and rules can vary according to which state and which kind of judge, but the general answer is yes, they can read whatever they think will be helpful and use it too, with some limitations.

Here is an article that talks about judges using the Internet. The trend is to use the Internet more and more, particularly on the appellate level, it says. There are some who feel they shouldn't use Google in deciding cases and should stick to facts in evidence, which is another topic. Trademark cases are one type where it seems more and more use search engines, because one part of a trademark case involves how well-known your mark is. A search can demonstrate your fame or lack of it. Domain name disputes also often involve search engine work. Again, the issue is trademarks in such disputes.

Here is how the article explains it:

"Rules governing out-of-court research are ambiguous about the use of search engines and, in the United States, tend to vary by state. In general, though, appeals courts have leeway in the sources they use. 'Often appellate arguments require going outside the record of a particular case, because a judge or a panel must weigh the ramifications. What does this mean down the road?' said Dick Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC). 'Tradition dictates that anything is fair game in terms of the research a judge or a judge's staff can do online.' . . .

"Trial judges are more constrained. Rule 201 of the Federal Rules of Evidence says trial judges may take notice of public information only when they 'resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.' Most of the cases reviewed by CNET News.com involved trial judges using Google."

Here is one relevant section from the article, showing the trend to use search engines:

"In the United States and abroad, judges are turning to search engines such as Google to check facts, to look up information about companies embroiled in litigation, and to challenge statistics presented by attorneys in court. Dozens of judges have penned opinions describing Google as a valuable--and sometimes crucial--source of knowledge.

"To be sure, Google has no monopoly in the legal system. Yahoo's search engine popped up in the landmark Napster copyright case four years ago, and Oregon police tried to track a criminal defendant accused of firearm violations through Yahoo searches. When AltaVista was in its heyday, it also was mentioned in a handful of cases.

So, yes, judges can read whatever they think would be helpful, and they are free to use the information even in their decision-making, subject to the above limitations. That's why I am always so careful not to put any information on Groklaw unless I have two sources and why we provide links to proofs of whatever we write. It's also why -- well, part of why -- I ask that comments be phrased in language a judge might be accustomed to read and would not be offended by. Judges can read Groklaw, and if any do stop by, I hope they will feel very welcome here.