Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rules? What rules? (aka blogging for prosecutors)

Some kind reader used my suggestion box to ask if I'd post about legal and ethical challenges I face blogging, a topic I've brushed up against previously but not (if memory serves) addressed directly.

As you might imagine, when I began blogging I looked for written guidance as to what was and was not acceptable. I even called the State Bar ethics hotline to see if there were any rules I could follow.

Seems not.

Most constraints on legal blogging seem to focus around issues of advertising (not a problem for me, I have new "clients" streaming in every day) and client confidentiality (okay, so I don't actually have "clients," so this doesn't apply either).

I then looked around for other prosecutor blogs to see what they were doing, I thought I'd contact the writers and get some tips. But I couldn't find any.

Which left me somewhat out in the cold.

Essentially, I had to set my own guidelines and I did this by asking two questions every time I blogged:

1. What did I see as ethically appropriate?
2. What would get me fired?

I follow some simple rules, flexible ones, that attempt to keep me on the right side of those questions. The main ones are:
  • Do not write about ongoing cases. If I want to draw attention to one of my cases, say it's going to trial, then I let people know it's going to trial and I post a link to a news story about the case, without commenting on the facts myself. This cane be tough because I'd love to blog about what happened last week, I've been asked to do so, but I'm going to put some time between the event and my account of it.
  • Do not generate, encourage, or participate in topics of controversy. Thus you won't find discussions about the death penalty, immigration, drug policy, or the Dallas Cowboys here.
  • Treat everyone with respect. If I have a funny case where someone did something silly, or said something amusing, I will never tell you about it to humiliate that person and so won't identify them. We see so many funny things in court it's tempting to give every last detail but I try to be more respectful than that. The one time I will name someone is if they have done a really good job and warrant some attention.
I think those are pretty much my guiding principles. I sometimes wish there were more prosecutors out there blogging, or some legal scholars drafting guidelines for bloggers, but on the other hand a little freedom is nice.


  1. I did a post about the "rules" for blogging as a prosecutor as specific to the Harris County D.A.'s Office after a prosecutor got in some trouble for what she had been blogging. Some of it might apply across the board.

  2. I have a question about your blog ... is there a reason you don't have an e-mail on your site? I mean, if someone wanted to ask you a question that didn't really pertain to any of your recent posts, but couldn't find your e-mail, then they'd have to comment on your most recent post and attempt to make their comment about your post seem like a comment about your post instead of what it really was: trying to find some way to send you a private message. ;)

  3. Thanks Harris County Lawyer, good to know.

    And dotdotdot, you are right, I've been meaning to put an email address. It's now at the top of the page, in the banner/masthead/thingy.


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