POSTED FEB 17, 2015 05:45 AM CST
The board recommended a suspension of a year and a day for the “social media blitz” spearheaded by lawyer Joyce Nanine McCool, who represented a mother alleging child abuse by the father of her children in a child custody and visitation battle. The Legal Profession Blognoted the case and linked the disciplinary board’s Feb. 10 opinion (PDF).
According to the disciplinary board, McCool used Twitter and other social media to publish misleading and inflammatory statements about the judges, to promote the petition, and to try to influence the judges in pending litigation. The website promoting the online petition contained sealed information about the cases, the disciplinary board said.
McCool had said the online petition was the result of a “group brainstorming session” she attended with her client and others. The group met at McCool’s home or office, where they typed the petition and uploaded it to a website.
“Sign our petition telling the judges that there can be no justice … if the law and evidence is ignored,” the online petition said. “Ask yourself, what if these were your daughters? … Horrified? Call the judges and let them know.”
The disciplinary board posted several of McCool’s tweets, including this one: “GIMME GIMME GIMME Evidence! Want some? I got it. Think u can convince a judge to look at it? Sign this petition.”
One of the judges targeted in the social media campaign, from Mississippi, had inherited the case involving child sex-abuse allegations from a prior judge who died. The other targeted judge, from Louisiana, was asked to consider a petition to adopt the children by the mother’s new husband. The Mississippi judge who first heard the sex-abuse claim appointed a guardian ad litem, who found no merit to the sex-abuse allegations. The mother later raised new sex-abuse claims.
The online petition said the Mississippi judge refused to listen to evidence on audio recordings during an August 2011 hearing, when in reality the recordings were not offered into evidence, the disciplinary board said. And the petition accused the Louisiana judge of refusing to hear evidence, when in reality she stayed the case in deference to the Mississippi proceedings.
McCool “by her own admission was unhappy with the decisions rendered in the matters she was litigating,” the disciplinary board said. “After her legal procedural options were exhausted, she decided to launch a social media campaign to influence the presiding judges. Consequently, respondent knowingly, if not intentionally, spearheaded a social media blitz in an attempt to influence the judiciary.”
The disciplinary board said discipline for similar false and misleading statements typically ranged from six months to one year, but noted a “troubling fact” that distinguishes McCool’s conduct—she used the Internet and social media to facilitate it. “Consequently, the offending language remains present and accessible on the Internet today,” the board said. “Furthermore, respondent has expressed no remorse for her conduct claiming instead it is protected free speech.”