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.
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida. I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.
You are receiving this ETHICS ALERT since you are a current or former client or you have requested that this ETHICS ALERT be sent to you. Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERTS any time. If you would like to discontinue receipt of this ETHICS ALERT or if you would like to begin receiving it, simply send me an e-mail to me advising of your request.
If there are others at your firm who would like to be included on the distribution list, please feel free to forward this update to them or let us know in an email. If you would like to forward this ETHICS ALERT to any person or entity please feel free do so as long as it is not for personal gain and you forward the entire email, including all contact information and disclaimers.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670