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Law Office Management

Nov. 2, 2006

The Internet: When the Accused Go Virtual

Defense attorneys discover the Internet. By Ben Topkins

By Ben Topkins
     
      Why should accused criminals have their own websites? Ask Mark Geragos. In 1996 he got the idea of devoting a website to the most famous client he had at the time, Susan McDougal. Even before launching the site, his firm had started getting checks in the mail, Geragos says. But the website increased that flow of money, especially from people who wanted to make their contributions online with credit cards.
      Eight years later the Scott Peterson murder trial came along. The day the firm announced it was taking the case, Geragos says, its website (www.geragos. com) received so many hits it crashed. Then after Peterson's conviction, Geragos set up a separate website devoted to the case; that one drew up to 470,000 hits a day.
      Defense websites have caught on in recent years. Among recent launches are sites for Tom DeLay and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. And though it's true that raising money is often the prime motivation, that's not the only thing these sites do. For example, when lawyers for death row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams set up a defense site in 2005, they were simply trying to save their client's life. Williams was ultimately executed. But before he died, more than a million people downloaded his clemency petition.
      In Houston, attorney Andy Vickery came to appreciate the value of the Internet when his firm, Vickery & Waldner, added pages to its site to publicize his pro bono appeal on behalf of a twelve-year-old boy convicted of murdering his mother while taking the antidepressant medication Zoloft. "The site has made people aware of the plight of this boy, and it's good PR for our law firm," he says.
      But for all the apparent value of defenders going virtual, at least one prosecutor says he's not very impressed—at least for now. "I never look at them," says John Monaghan, the attorney who presented the Los Angeles district attorney's case to the governor at Williams's clemency hearing. Nor does he think the average citizen cares much about defense websites either. "We should just concentrate on trying our case in the courtroom, to the jury," he says.
     
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Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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