Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


J. C. Lundberg


During voir dire in Johnson v. McCullough, a medical malpractice case in Missouri, at least one juror failed to answer honestly a question about whether he had been a defendant or plaintiff in a lawsuit. After the verdict was entered, the plaintiff conducted a search on Missouri’s online case database and discovered that one of the jurors had been a defendant in a personal injury suit. In the resulting appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that litigants should conduct a search in this database during voir dire, instead of waiting until after a verdict is entered. Johnson is one of several cases that explicitly state an expectation that attorneys conduct a form of Internet research. New and existing ethics guidelines, including ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.5, place boundaries around the depth of inquiry permitted. According to some commentators, because Internet research is ethically permitted, at a minimum attorneys should ask leave of the court and conduct a precursory Internet search of the venire. This Article addresses the extent to which courts have permitted lawyers to use the Internet to conduct jury research and what limits the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and courts place on the practice. It further addresses the degree to which this kind of research has become compulsory as a shield against a possible malpractice claim.

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