Friday, September 29, 2017

Should You Ever Cite Wikipedia in a Court Document?

Sometimes some secondary support for a proposition is better than no support. The Weil Gotshal & Manges law firm blog reports on what happens when lawyers cite to Wikipedia and focuses on one case in which the Texas intermediate court cited Wikipedia for the definition of a “welfare queen”—a defamation case.

The Texas Supreme Court was critical:

Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court in D Mag Partners, L.P. held that the court of appeals improperly utilized Wikipedia as a primary source “to ascribe a specific, narrow definition to a single term that the court found significantly influenced the article’s gist.” 2017 WL 1041234, at *6 (emphasis added). Indeed, the main problem with the court of appeals’ decision was that it had relied on the Wikipedia definition “as the lynchpin of its analysis on a critical issue” despite the existence of other sources that offered a broader common meaning.

According to the high court, citation to Wikipedia may be permitted as “a starting point for research purposes” or when used sparingly for minor points in judicial opinions. Id. at *5.

The take-away:

Following the court’s guidance, lawyers should be wary to rely completely on Wikipedia to support arguments on dispositive matters. That said, more junior attorneys seeking a compendium of sources on a relevant issue may find Wikipedia an extremely beneficial – and cost effective – starting point.

You can read more here.


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