A lawyer’s website contained pages describing past successful litigation against Ford. When that lawyer was in trial on a similar claim against Ford, the trial judge ordered the lawyer to remove the website pages during the pendency of the trial so that jurors were not exposed to it. On appeal, two years after the trial was over and the website was restored, the order was found to be an unlawful prior restraint. On Wednesday, Division Six of the Second District Court of Appeal issued the opinion by Justice Steven Z. Perren inSteiner v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 30, 2013, 2D CIV. B235347) 2013 WL 5819545. The decision was significant in three respects:
First, it recognized an important limitation on the trial court’s power to curtail an attorney’s free speech rights. The trial court had correctly instructed the jurors not to “Google” the attorneys or conduct independent research. Jurors are presumed to follow such admonitions. (Steiner v. Superior Court, at 14; citing NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1221). Absent proof that any juror actually violated the court’s admonition, the trial court had no authority to order the trial attorney to take down web pages as a prophylactic measure.