Thursday, October 27, 2011
Tarrant County juror sentenced to community service for trying to 'friend' defendant on Facebook
FORT WORTH -- Jonathan Hudson has learned that some things just don't go on Facebook -- namely jury duty.
Hudson was a juror on a Tarrant County civil case last month when he tried to "friend" the defendant and discussed the case on his Facebook page, according to court records. The woman notified her lawyer who, in turn, told the presiding judge, Wade Birdwell.
Last week, Hudson, 22, pleaded guilty to four counts of contempt of court related to the matter. He was sentenced to two days of community service, which will be chores assigned to him by the jury bailiff next month.
Officials in the Tarrant County district attorney's office said this is the first instance they are aware of in which a juror used social media to contact a person involved in an ongoing case.
"I've never seen this before," prosecutor Chris Ponder said. "But I'm afraid this is a new reality as the technology is so ubiquitous that we'll have these types of things occur."
The trial involved a 2008 car wreck.
After trial recessed for the day on July 18, Hudson tried to contact the defendant, Courtney Downing, on Facebook.
The next morning, he was dismissed and the trial proceeded with 11 jurors.
Hudson then sent Downing an apology message, saying he thought she was someone else, but she didn't believe him, according to the court records.
He wrote that he was being prosecuted for his actions, adding that he didn't use names or talk about what kind of case it was on his Facebook page, according to the records.
"I pretty much just said I was selected to be on a jury," his Facebook message to her read. "I'm pretty upset over this and I'm sure you guys are too. I guess you know what it feels like to be prosecuted too. Good luck with everything."
Texas recently added specific language to jury instructions that bans jurors from discussing the case on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which was in the instructions given to Hudson, officials said.
Hudson's attorney Steve Gordon said his client feels bad about what happened.
"He seemed to be a very nice kid who just made a silly mistake," Gordon said. "It is a reflection of the times. Most everyone has smartphones now. They can hop on at almost anytime. And there's a lot of down time in jury duty, so what most people do is hop on their phone. But the rules are there for a reason."
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700