Louisiana lawyer disbarred for social media campaign with “false, misleading and inflammatory statements” to influence custody case
Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion disbarring a lawyer who, inter alia, made false statements and used Twitter and an online petition to urge readers to contact two presiding judges who she alleged were unwilling to consider the evidence in two child custody cases involving allegations of sexual abuse. The disciplinary opinion is In Re: Joyce Nanine McCool, No. 2015-B-0284 (June 30, 2015) and the opinion is online here:#
According to the opinion, the lawyer solicited others to make ex-parte contact with presiding judges and the Louisiana Supreme Court to make comments about the cases, which were sealed and confidential proceedings. The opinion referred to several examples of the lawyer’s media comments, including this tweet: “GIMME GIMME GIMME Evidence! Want some? I got it. Think u can convince a judge to look at it? Sign this petition.” “Another tweet said, ―Judge
Gambrell at it again – turned a 4 YO child over to a validated abuser – PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT WILL TAKE FOR EVERYON [sic] TO SAY ‗ENOUGH‘.”
The lawyer also made the following comment: “Please sign the petition, circulate it to all of your friends and families and call Judge Amacker and Judge Gambrell during the hours of 8:30 to 5:00 starting Monday, August 15 to ask why they won’t follow the law and protect these children. Let them know you’re watching and expect them to do their job and most of all, make sure these precious little girls are safe!”
The opinion stated: “These online articles and postings by respondent contain numerous false, misleading, and inflammatory statements about the manner in which (the presiding judges) were handling the pending cases. But respondent denies any responsibility for these misstatements, contending these were ―Raven‘s perceptions of what had happened‖ and respondent was simply ―helping [Raven] get her voice out there.”
The lawyer argued that her conduct was protected by the First Amendment; however, the majority of the Court rejected that argument. “We disagree and take strong exception to respondent’s artful attempt to use the First Amendment as a shield against her clearly and convincingly proven ethical misconduct.” The opinion also stated that the lawyer had an “utter lack of remorse” and a “defiant attitude” by asserting her actions had First Amendment protection. “The appropriate method for challenging a judge’s decisions and evidentiary rulings, as respondent even conceded, is through the writ and appeal process, not by starting a social media blitz to influence the judges’ and this court’s rulings in pending matters and then claiming immunity from discipline through the First Amendment.”
A disciplinary hearing committee conducted a hearing on February 27, 2014, and March 27, 2014 in which both presiding judges testified. The lawyer also testified and repeatedly denied that she violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. She also implied and/or stated that her conduct was justified by what the judges had done in the underlying cases and in the interest of protecting the minor children. The hearing committee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty and recommended a suspension of a year and a day and the disciplinary board concurred.
The opinion concluded: “Respondent’s misconduct is further distinguishable because of her use of the internet and social media to facilitate her misconduct. As a result, the petition and associated offensive postings had and still have the potential to reach a large number of people world-wide and remain present and accessible on the world wide web even today. Coupled with her complete lack of remorse and admitted refusal to simply allow our system of review to work without seeking outside interference, respondent’s misconduct reflects a horrifying lack of respect for the dignity, impartiality, and authority of our courts and our judicial process as a whole.”
“Respondent’s social media campaign conducted outside the sealed realm of the underlying judicial proceedings constitutes, in our view, an intolerable disservice to these traditions and our judicial system, which the constraints of our rules of professional conduct seek to safeguard against. Accordingly, we find her ethical misconduct warrants the highest of sanction—disbarment.”
Bottom line: This lawyer’s misconduct involved the extensive use of social media in a campaign to discredit the judicial system/obtain justice for the children. The Louisiana Supreme Court found that her misconduct “reflects a horrifying lack of respect for the dignity, impartiality, and authority of our courts and our judicial process as a whole.” All lawyers must be very wary of using social media to promote their clients’ causes. This lawyer’s use of social media led to her disbarment.
Be careful out there.
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My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms. If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help obtain the license.
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