Social media in the courtroom - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Social media in the courtroom

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AUSTIN, Minn. (KTTC) -- The custody battle over an HIV positive infant in Mower county has gained a lot of attention.

Baby Rico was taken from his parents after officials say he wasn't receiving adequate HIV treatment.

The family says that's not true, and they want him back, permanently.

So they've taken their plea to the court of public opinion by way of social media, but will it make a difference in the Mower County courtroom?

Tuesday was the final day in the custody hearing for Baby Rico who was born in December with HIV.

His mother tested positive when she was adopted as a toddler from Romania.

Mower county officials removed baby Rico in January. He was eventually returned his parents care last month, but whether or not he'll stay was up for discussion Tuesday.

More than 8,000 people have seen the video of Baby Rico being removed from his parents custody.

That's small by YouTube standards, but its a lot of attention for a Mower County custody case, and baby Rico's grandparents say all that attention is only a good thing.

"I think that people seeing what goes on here is only going to bring good things. They're going to understand where their tax dollars, how families can be destroyed by situations like this," said Steve Nagel, baby Rico's grandfather.

But separate from other facts of the case, can Facebook 'likes', page visits and YouTube hits make a difference in a custody battle? We asked Justin Kwong an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law over Skype.

"None of those things are directly relevant to whether or not the parties are good parents or whether the city our county has a meritus case for removing the child from the home," Kwong said.

Kwong says that's because the judge is deciding the case according to the facts and the letter of the law, and when it comes to the court room, those page hits and YouTube views don't mean anything.

"A Facebook 'like' is really ambiguous as far as what it actually means," Kwong said.

In this case, Kwong says, a 'like' or a page view could mean someone supports the family and thinks they are fit parents, or it could mean they just don't like the county or any number of other things.

So if it doesn't help the family's case, could it hurt? Kwong says he's not so sure, but it's not something to rule out.

"Some people might find it distasteful to use a child's image to rally for a cause one way or another," Kwong said. "I don't know if that's something the judge will consider."

The family says when it comes down to the facts of the case, baby Rico has received adequate medical care and should stay with his parents.

The decision could come as early as April 17, but it could take as long as 90 days for the judge to make a ruling.

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