Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Judge can order you to turn over your Facebook username and password

Facebook users often post intimate details of the minutiae of their lives . . .pictures of their meals, unfiltered thoughts and comments, photos of their children, thoughts on current events . . . and their hundreds (or even thousands) of "Facebook friends" can share in their daily lives.  However, being a "Facebook friend" does not equate to a personal, real life relationship.  Accordingly, those Facebook postings, some with very personal information, are spread to a network of people whom users do not know personally.

The suggested number of people a with whom a person can actually sustain an actual, on-going social relationship has been estimated to be between 100 and 230, also known as Dunbar's number.


With many Facebook friend circles numbering in the several hundreds, or even thousands, commonsense dictates that Facebook users do not maintain actual, social relationships with all of their "Facebook friends."  Add in the information that is not private on Facebook, and therefore open to anyone with an internet connection, and those intimate details that are posted are suddenly shared with the general public.

Those same people who post up to the minute chronological details of their daily lives, complete with pictures, often cry foul when their postings are used against them.  While this reasoning defies logic, the phenomenon frustrates lawyers because of clients' refusal to terminate the incessant and detailed postings.

I tell every potential client that their words can be used against them, and to be extra careful with social networking sites, email, text messages, blogs and other mediums where a record is made.  With their retainer agreement, each client receives a written notice regarding the dangers of unfiltered and unfettered publication of intimate details of their lives.  The draw of social networking must be too great because, invariably, clients cannot resist the lure of spreading details about their lives . . . and it is often used against them in litigation.

Courts in Pennsylvania have trended toward granting access to Facebook accounts via the discovery process in litigation.  Judges have actually ordered that a litigant turn over their username and password so that opposing counsel can inspect the entirety of the account. Litigants have even been ordered to open their Facebook page in court --- for an impromptu inspection.

Just this month, a Pennsylvania judge ordered the following in the case of  Largent vs. Reed, et al:


IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff Jennifer Largent hall turn over to Defense counsel her Facebook username email and password within 14 days of the date of this Order. Plaintiff shall not delete or otherwise erase any information on her Facebook account. After  35 days from the date of this Order, Plaintiff may change her Facebook login password to prevent further access by Defense counsel.



You can read the entire opinion here.

Before you post, decide if you would be comfortable with a judge, opposing counsel, your adversary in a case and complete strangers viewing it.  If not, edit accordingly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Helpful Tip Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and every Tuesday we like to post a tip that will help you to handle your legal issues.



If you are not ready to file your tax return on the due date each year (April 15th), most people know they have the option of requesting an extension of time to file their return. However, at the time you file your extension request, if you file your extension as married filing separately, you are permitted to then amend and file jointly. However, if you file an extension jointly, you are not permitted under the law to then amend and file separately. Accordingly, carefully choose your filing status when you request your extension.


Monday, November 28, 2011

“Who is watching you?”

Before a marriage ends, there is often a lack of trust. This can lead a spouse to take extreme measures, such as hiring an investigator to follow a spouse or tracking their movements with a GPS.  Although this is not exceedingly common, it occurred in a New Jersey case, Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, which warns of the dangers of tracking a spouse. 


In Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, the parties were married in 2000, and divorced in 2009. Before their divorce, wife suspected husband of infidelity and hired a private investigation company. The private investigator suggested that wife install a GPS tracking device in the parties' car to track husband’s movements. After purchasing a GPS device, wife placed the system in the vehicle that was jointly owned by parties and maintained for their personal use. Wife testified that the GPS system was only installed in the vehicle for 40 days. During those 40 days wife obtained online reports regarding the movement of the vehicle. However, nothing in the court record shows whether wife passed the information from these reports to investigators.






During the divorce proceedings, wife acknowledged that she placed a GPS device in husband’s vehicle. At that time, husband asserted a right to privacy defense against wife in the divorce action; however, it was later waived. 


Husband then brought suit against the private investigators claiming that the private investigation company invaded his privacy.


Investigators argued that the tracking of a vehicle on public roadways is not illegal because a driver has no expectation of privacy while in a car on a public roadway. In response, husband argued that often, locations are not within public view, therefore a certain level of privacy is expected. The court responded by agreeing that there is a level of privacy associated with certain areas, such as private parking lots; however,  husband was never in those locations. Next, husband claimed that because he is a police officer his movements should be held as private. The court again disagreed with husband, focusing on the fact that the vehicle was jointly owned by the parties and was intended for personal use. 


The court then focused on the right to privacy argument set forward by husband, who claimed that the GPS tracking device intruded on his solitude and seclusion, which resulted in a violation of his privacy. The right to privacy has been defined as the right of an individual to be “protected from any wrongful intrusion into his private life which would outrage or cause mental suffering, shame, or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities.” 


The court held that there was no direct evidence that the GPS device recorded husband’s movement into a private area, and therefore there was no expectation of privacy. Further, there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in husband’s movements from one place to another. 


In short, the court held that under those specific circumstances it was not a breach of husband’s right to privacy.  However, he warned that it was a highly fact-specific decision.  If one detail had been different, the court may have come to a different decision.  For example, if only husband’s name was on the car or if he had driven to private property, then the court may have reached a different decision.  In short, you should consult with an attorney before taking any actions to avoid potential legal battles.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cross that one off the bucket list!!

Our very own Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire completed the Philadelphia Marathon this past Sunday.  That's right . . .  26.2 miles!

What an accomplishment!  
Elizabeth is a true athlete and scholar.

Helpful Tip Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and every Tuesday we like to post a tip that will help you to handle your legal issues.




Going through a divorce? Consider redecorating. A new coat of paint or different furniture can help you take charge of this next phase of your life. Visit www.apartmenttherapy.com on www.casasugar.com for tips and ideas.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Strategies for surviving the holidays

The holiday season is often stressful for families.  The normal stress is often exaggerated if a family is experience a divorce or is a blended-family.  Read this article for strategies to not only survived but also enjoy the holiday season.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Revenge not so sweet that can land you in jail!

Think before you post....tweet .....text .....facebook .....youtube.....email .....etc.

Police recently arrested a Delaware County man who videotaped his girlfriend while they were having se and then, after they broker up, posted the video on the internet.  According to reports, he told police that he was: "trying to be hateful."  He now faces multiple criminal charges as well as attorneys fees, court costs, the humiliation of having his story splashed across the news along with the break-up of his relationship.  Read the full story here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The dangers of social media

We often post regarding the dangers of social media - almost to the point of seeming alarmist or redundant.  However, the problems with social media are real, especially if you are involved in litigation.  This is particularly true as courts are only beginning to grapple with how to deal with evidence available through social media.


Click here to watch a news video regarding the impact of Facebook in a divorce and custody case.


Click here to read a news article regarding the implications of Facebook "friendships" for lawyers and judges.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Helpful Tip Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and every Tuesday we like to post a tip that will help you to handle your legal issues.


Compartmentalize email correspondence with your spouse. Consider setting up a separate email address specifically dedicated to correspondence with your spouse. That way, if you ever have to produce those emails, you do not have to sort through your work emails or other private emails that are not relevant to the divorce.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Helpful Tip Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and every Tuesday we like to post a tip that will help you to handle your legal issues.


Sometimes we cannot change the way our ex behaves. However, we can change the way we react to that behavior. That can make all of the difference in the world.

Election Day - November 8, 2011

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Polishing up your credit score

Contrary to what most people seem to believe, credit scores can be improved.  Some fixes are easy, some take work and some simply take time, but methods exist to improve your credit worthiness.  If you have a spotty credit history, taking proactive steps now will help you be more attractive to lenders in the future.


1. Pay your bills on time.  One or two late payments can affect your credit score, but do not throw in the towel and make your problem worse by continuing to make late payments.  Additionally, sometimes a lender will consider the reasons behind late payments (such as a divorce, death or unemployment) and reduce the damage to your score if you show a better payment history.  


2. Pay down your large balances and avoid accumulating additional debt.  Keep your debt balances in check.  Continue to attempt to reduce what you owe, and try to avoid simply moving balances to different credit lines.  Additionally, try to pay down the accounts with the highest interest rates first.


3. Resist the urge to max out all available credit.  Your credit worthiness is measured in part by the amount of your outstanding debt compared to the amount of credit available to you.  If all of your credit card balances are close to your credit limit, your credit score will be lower.  For example, if your credit card has a $5,000.00 limit on it, then your credit score will be better if your outstanding balance is $1,000.00 than if it is $4,000.00.  


4. Develop a positive credit history over time.  A long credit history in crystal clean condition is obviously the best situation, but, even if you only have a short credit history, make sure it is a good one by keeping your balances low and making timely payments.  For example, if you do not have a credit card because you are afraid of credit card debt, it still may be a good idea to open a credit card to establish credit history.  You do not have to use the credit card.  Simply having credit available to you helps establish positive credit history.


5. Understand that you may have taken action that will negatively affect your credit score and possibly for a long period of time.  For example, a judgment against you, a bankruptcy or a foreclosure will negatively mark your credit score for quite some time.  Typically, it takes at least seven (7) years, if not longer, for bad marks to be removed from your report.  However, you can begin to minimize the effect of those black marks by patiently engaging in good credit behavior.


6. Be careful about applying for too much credit too quickly.  Multiple applications over a short period of time appear on your credit report and can negatively affect your credit worthiness.  Be aware that credit card applications are not the only “applications” that appear.  Applications for credit like car loans, student loans, mortgages and lines of credit also appear.  For example, trying to open a couple new credit cards right before applying for a mortgage may negatively impact your credit score and make it more difficult to obtain a competitive mortgage.


7. If possible, do not simply rely on credit cards.  Rather than only using credit cards for financing needs, maintain a mix of credit types, such as installment loans or equity lines.


8. You can correct mistakes on your credit report.  The first step is to obtain your free credit report.  Federal law requires that you be able to obtain one free report each year.  You can obtain the report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.  Note that this website is an independent website and is different than sponsored websites, such as freecreditreport.com, or websites associated with one of the three credit bureaus.  Those websites often have hidden costs, such as requiring you to sign up for a free trial of a credit service.  The reports at www.annualcreditreport.com are completely free.  Once your report is mailed to you, if you find mistakes, potential identity theft, such as someone else using your credit, or balances that are not familiar, you should challenge them right away.  That way, you are proactively protecting an asset (your credit score), which is becoming more and more important as banks are becoming much more stringent with their lending policies.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Helpful Tip Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and every Tuesday we like to post a tip that will help you to handle your legal issues.


Polish up your resume. The job website, monster.com, includes a section on resume tips. Check it out.