Twitter and the Langford trial - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Twitter and the Langford trial

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The trial of Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford is considered one of the first major trials to be covered by Twitter, and the national media watched to see how Twitter would change the game. In the middle of writing the rules was Judge Scott Coogler. He says there were two competing goals to try and balance.

"Our first priority is to make sure that person gets a fair trial," says Coogler. "Then, once that starts we have to strike a balance because the public has a right to know what's going on in the courtroom."
    
Federal rules ban broadcasting from inside the courtroom, but Judge Coogler says in his mind, tweeting is different.

"The difference is Twitter is like a reporter taking notes, if you will, instead of having to take the notes back to their office, they're writing them on a device which then goes out. It's their own interpretation of what's going on in the proceeding, and when I looked at it, it seemed pretty clear to me," notes Coogler.

Judge Coogler says his main concern is making sure the press did not disrupt the trial, and he says allowing reporters to use Blackberries and iPhones instead of running in and out to file updates helped eliminate distractions, like when FOX6 broke the news of a verdict thanks to texts from inside the courtroom.

His other concern was keeping jurors away from outside information, and he says allowing tweets does not change their responsibility to ignore any and all press coverage.

"The problem would come if the jurors go home and look on such sites. Well, Twittering is not going to change that," says Coogler. "With or without Twittering you've got blogs, reporters who take notes and run out on breaks and give the information to their offices/studios, who then broadcast them. SO you have the same effect."

Though they were concerned about press coverage affecting the outcome, Langford's defense team said they were not opposed to allowing instant twitter updates.

Langford Attorney Glennon Threatt says "I'm in favor of an open and fair press. I've traveled to countries that don't have one and I prefer the system that we have."

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