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:http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2015/15B0284.opn.pdf

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.

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

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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