Court to tweet and Facebook trial reminders

A major report found solutions like tougher penalties for skipping court and utilizing grand juries instead of preliminary hearings should be implemented by city courts.

Don’t be surprised if you get a friend request from Philadelphia’s First Judicial District Court — the city’s antiquated legal system is embracing social media. 

“The Supreme Court calls me ‘gadget guy,’” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, who along with Chief Justice Ronald Castille released an interim report yesterday on an initiative that is making sweeping changes to Philadelphia’s First Judicial District.

“A lot of folks live and breathe on their cell phones or smart phones, and we want to make the court system a more user friendly service.”

This includes using Facebook and text messaging to remind offenders of court dates. “For a lot of people, it’s not that they don’t want to show up to their court dates. In life, things happen,” McCaffery said. “By using social media, if someone loses their subpoena, they can still know when and where to go.”

McCaffery also hopes to use the court’s website to foster more transparency. “Citizens should know what’s going on and what our goals are,” he said. “I don’t want them to think [the judicial system] is a huge black hole.”

Increased technology will also benefit witnesses, as cameras will be mounted in every courtroom, capturing spectators who often attempt to intimidate by taking pictures or filming testimony on cell phones. “Anyone who holds up a phone will be caught on camera, stopped and asked to give a reasonable explanation,” McCaffery said.



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