A woman who blabbed on Facebook about “dying from boredom” while serving on a jury has been slapped with a $1000 fine.
Kimberly Ellis, of Queens, New York, was on a jury for a case about a 2014 robbery when she began making detail-filled posts, sometimes twice a day, from a courthouse in the Queens neighborhood of Kew Gardens.
According to The Daily News, which accessed a court transcript, this was a post Ellis made on 17 September:
Everything about this process is inefficient. I’m trying to remain positive and centered but, truthfully, I’m dying from boredom.
The complaining kept coming after the jury began deliberations.
Another of the oversharing juror’s posts:
God help me. The other jurors don’t trust the police and want to outright dismiss the confessions as well as the majority of the rest of the evidence. Tomorrow is going to be a very difficult day.
She was ratted out by one of her Facebook friends who just so happened to be a former federal and Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office prosecutor.
On 30 September, Queens Supreme Court Justice Ira Margulis called Ellis out.
From the court transcript:
Margulis: "Now, can you tell me why you did this?"
Ellis: "Well, I sometimes - I suppose I forget it’s so public and it’s Facebook and it’s something that I use a lot. And I’m pretty quiet in my day-to-day dealings with people, so it’s just a way for me to, you know, express myself."
Margulis: "Even though you violated an expressed order from the Court not to do that?"
Yes, even so, Ellis said, admitting that the court had made it clear that jurors are forbidden from using social media while serving.
I wasn't thinking clearly. I apologize.
Ellis was found in contempt of court. Margulis gave her this advice before dismissing her:
It is in your best interests that you retain an attorney.
With Ellis off the jury and no alternate waiting to take her place, the case was declared a mistrial.
The judge made clear how costly a mistrial can be.
In fact, it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars, Margulis said, ticking off some line items:
We had an interpreter in that case. We have the court reporter, we have the clerk, and everybody else associated with the case and including the district attorney's time and effort and defense counsel.
This is just wasted taxpayers’ money because of what the defendant did. And it’s not that she was not aware.
He also explained the difficulties a mistrial presents to the victims who have to testify:
One of the robbery victims because of what happened to her moved out of state and came back for the trial.
Ellis is remorseful, she told The Daily News:
I continued my personal life as if I was not there to judge a trial It was my first time as a juror, and I was naive.
She also said she’s “absolutely frightened I will lose my job over this.”
My ex-husband is disabled and I raise my two children. I'm afraid this will impact them. I'm very scared.
There’s probably not much we can say about Ellis’s actions that she hasn’t already said to herself.
At any rate, she’s not the first person to find herself in hot water over social media posts about a trial.
In April, Judge Michelle Slaughter, from Galveston County, Texas, was chewed out for making Facebook posts about a case that resulted in a mistrial and was ordered to get trained on “proper and ethical use of social media” by judges.
Slaughter was cleared of wrongdoing in September, though a three-judge Special Court of Review noted that a judge’s use of social media is a murky territory where care is needed.
The Houston Chronicle quotes the review panel judges:
A judge should never reveal his or her thought processes in making any judgement. While [Slaughter's Facebook] comments were ultimately proven to not be suggestive of her probable decision on any particular case, the process for reaching this conclusion required the expenditure of a great deal of time, energy and expense.
Social media can be a pleasant bubble.
We can get lulled into the feeling that we’re just chatting with friends who sympathize as we share our gripes or who exult with us when we, say, post selfies of ourselves with a winning ticket …that crooks can use to make a counterfeit ticket and thereby swipe our money.
Let’s all try to remember that what seems, to us, to be inconsequential moments of boredom and glee can have deep, serious, costly consequences when we share them publicly.