Posner on How Judges Confront Technology

May 12th, 2012

“We duck, bluff, weave and change the subject,” said Posner, an outspoken judge known for his provocative legal opinions. . . .

“What we’re confronted with in modern technology is altogether more esoteric and difficult than what we older people grew up with,” said Posner, 73, who gave the keynote speech at the annual dinner of the 7th Circuit Bar Association. The judge sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago.

This piece in the Chicago Tribune also raises a point I have mentioned elsewhere–appellate courts looking outside the records, and in some cases, using internet research to find facts.

Posner’s Web surfing poses other concerns for practitioners, said Carolyn Shapiro, a professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and one of the judge’s former law clerks. Juries are prohibited from doing their own research, and some say the ban should extend to judges.

“The thing people worry about is judges looking at the Web to fill in formation that they don’t find in the (court) record,” Shapiro said.

In one case, Posner did exactly that. In a 2007 opinion involving the appeal of a prison sentence, the judge went to Google Maps to research the surroundings of the site of a shooting. He even attached a satellite photograph to his opinion. Posner also researched the characteristics of the gun that was fired, citing the website in the opinion.

Juval Scott, an Indianapolis attorney who represented the defendant in the case, said she gained a new appreciation for her job from Posner’s ruling.

“I learned very early that if I wanted to appeal I need to develop a complete record,” she said.