New RI Courts Social Media Policy Still in the Works

Jun 14, 2013

The long-sought trial of James "Whitey" Bulger in US District Court in Boston offers a great example of how Twitter can carry the drama of legal action to a far bigger audience. Tweets from a bevy of top crime reporters, including WPRI-TV's Tim White, have offered a minute-by-minute account of the scene as the former fugitive mobster faces justice.

The ability of reporters to tweet from the courthouse caused more than a twinge of envy for reporters back in Rhode Island, where efforts continue to bring the state courts into the age of social media. "It's just taking longer than I expected," says court spokesman Craig Berke, "but it's still moving ahead."

As we noted in reporting the search for a new policy last December, there's a disconnect between how the RI Judiciary is on Twitter, yet reporters were barred from tweeting or using laptops during a nationally publicized pension hearing last year.

Interest in the topic extends beyond journalists. A Friday morning workshop during the annual meeting of the RI Bar Association was dubbed, "Opportunity Tweets: Social Media and Technology in the Judiciary."

Berke says a policy has yet to emerge to address the use of social media and new technology in Rhode Island; more conversations are planned with Alice Gibney, the presiding justice of Superior Court, and Jeanne LaFazia, the chief judge of District Court.

"This will be a project that I'll be tackling this summer," Berke says, adding that the state Supreme Court would have to approve changes to the courts' media policy. He says that regardless of potential changes, individual judges will retain authority over conduct in their courtrooms.

Updating the state courts' policy won't impact federal courts in Rhode Island, where chief judge Mary Lisi -- unlike some counterparts in other states -- has held the line against new media in the courtroom.