April 30th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
Harvard Law School recently wrapped up a Second Life-based mock trial of the Josh Wolf case, attended by the real life Josh Wolf.
Wolf, a video journalist and blogger, had been imprisoned for refusing to turn over video footage of an anti-G8 anarchist protest in San Francisco that he recorded in 2005. A federal judge ordered him released earlier this month after 226 days in federal “coercive custody.”
The mock trial, which was scheduled before Wolf’s release, was designed at least partly to help generate support for his cause. One student writes: “From the first pre-trial conferences it quickly became clear that this case had been chosen because of a desire to ‘do something for Josh Wolf,’ [and] ‘do something’ meant to present the case in a light favorable to Wolf and obtain a verdict for his release.”
Wolf, however, was back on the mean streets of San Francisco televising the revolution by the time the mock trial was scheduled to begin, so he decided to participate. (He logged in as ‘Jwolf Writer’ — apparently doing seven and a half months in prison in defense of journalistic principles doesn’t get you a custom Second Life avatar name, though singing “Tom’s Diner” a capella on the grid does.) One assumes that the presence of the real-life defendant, who just last fall had watched his real-life lawyers lose on the same arguments the HLS students were making — sending him to real-life prison — added measurable tension to the virtual proceedings.
Lots of data and analysis from the mock trial including a video, the transcript, and analysis by the prosecutors is now available, linked below.
- Video about the Second Life trial shot and edited by a juror.
- Transcript of the trial on the course wiki, badly in need of cleanup.
- Analysis of the trial by the students playing prosecutors, who observe, correctly, that the judge made a couple calls that may have significantly helped the defense.
The Q&A with Josh while the jury was deliberating is particularly interesting.
‘[Law Professor] Eon Berkman:’ what do you feel you learned by being confined?
‘Jwolf Writer:’ I learned a lot about how the due process promised in the constitution doesn’t exist.
When they returned, the jury found for the defense. The verdict was delivered by an avatar named ‘Parmesan Eggplant,’ and, in true Second Life form, rudely interrupted by an avatar named ‘Nameless Amat.’
‘Eon Berkman:’ please rise and state the jury’s verdict
‘Parmesan Eggplant:’ first question – yes, there is a protectable first amendment interest
‘Parmesan Eggplant:’ second question – no, the Feds case did not outweigh Josh wolf’s interests
‘Parmesan Eggplant:’ not sure about exact wording of third questions – but he has been in prison long enough
‘Nameless Amat:’ wtf is going on
‘Eon Berkman:’ thank you
‘Rebecca Berkman:’ Nameless, we are having a trial.
‘Eon Berkman:’ the court orders josh wolf RELEASED!
Virtually Blind Commentary
While I don’t want to take anything away from defense counsel’s victory, especially given that the case came out the other way in the real world, I’d much rather have been defending this than prosecuting it under these circumstances.
Keep in mind that the judge (played by the professor who set this up) is a free speech advocate, that the proceedings were designed at least partly to get media attention for Josh via a defense verdict, that the defense attorneys were able to appeal to the emotions of an international, volunteer jury (there was no jury at all in the real proceedings), and that in the end, Wolf himself was sitting right there watching. I can’t say I’m surprised that the government lost.
[Disclaimer: Wolf first called attention to the mock trial on his blog after he saw an earlier post about it on Virtually Blind, and VB helped Wolf get in touch with the HLS team putting this together.]
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