Louisiana Supreme Court disbars former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making anonymous improper internet comments

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which disbarred a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making numerous anonymous improper and inflammatory comments on the internet related to pending criminal cases.  The disciplinary case is: Supreme Court of Louisiana v. In Re: Salvador R. Perricone, NO. 2018-B-1233 (12/5/18) and the link to the case is here:  https://www.ladb.org/DR/Default.aspx?DocID=9113&TAB=SC

According to the opinion, the underlying facts in the case were mostly undisputed.  The lawyer began employment as an Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 1991. At all times relevant to these proceedings, the lawyer was a Senior Litigation Counsel and the USAO’s training officer.

During the time period of the allegations in the Complaint, The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper maintained an Internet website called nola.com which permitted readers to post comments to news stories using pseudonyms and anonymous identities.

Beginning in November 2007 through March 14, 2012, the lawyer posted numerous comments on various subjects on nola.com, including statements about pending criminal cases to which he and other prosecutors were assigned. “Of the more than 2,600 comments respondent posted, between one hundred and two hundred – less than one percent – related to matters being prosecuted by (the U.S. Attorney’s Office). None of the comments identified respondent by name or as an employee of the USAO. Rather, respondent posted on nola.com using at least five online identities: ‘campstblue’, ‘legacyusa’, ‘dramatis personae’, “Henry L. Mencken1951’, and ‘fed up.’”

The anonymous comments included, inter alia, statements such as:

“Heebe’s (the defendant) goose is cooked.”

“I read the indictment…there is no legitimate reason for this type of behavior in such a short period of time and for a limited purpose. GUILTY!!!”

“Looks like Fazzio got a lemon. That book you refer to Mr. Rioux is about all of his losses. The guy is a clown and Fazzio is going down.”

The allegations were reported to the presiding judge who found the lawyer’s conduct improper and reversed the criminal convictions against the defendants and ordered a new trial.  The judge also found that the lawyer “viewed posting of highly-opinionated comments as a ‘public service.”  A disciplinary complaint was opened against the lawyer and, after disciplinary proceedings were completed, the Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of the Bar Rule violations and disbarred.

The Louisiana Supreme Court opinion rejected post-traumatic stress as mitigation and stated that “the focus of the inquiry in the instant case is on the second factor – namely, whether respondent’s PTSD caused the misconduct at issue. Based on our review of the record, we find no clear and convincing support for the conclusion that respondent’s mental condition may have caused his misconduct.”  After reviewing aggravating and mitigating factors and case law, the opinion further stated:

“In this age of social media, it is important for all attorneys to bear in mind that “[t]he vigorous advocacy we demand of the legal profession is accepted because it takes place under the neutral, dispassionate control of the judicial system.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1058 (1991). As the Court in Gentile wisely explained, “[a] profession which takes just pride in these traditions may consider them disserved if lawyers use their skills and insight to make untested allegations in the press instead of in the courtroom.” Id. Respondent’s conscious decision to vent his anger by posting caustic, extrajudicial comments about pending cases strikes at the heart of the neutral dispassionate control which is the foundation of our system. Our decision today must send a strong message to respondent and to all the members of the bar that a lawyer’s ethical obligations are not diminished by the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet.

In summary, considering respondent’s position of public trust as a prosecutor, his knowing and intentional decision to post these comments despite his acknowledgment that it was improper to do so, and the serious harm respondent’s conduct has caused both to individual litigants and to the legal profession as a whole, we must conclude he has failed to comply with the high ethical standards we require of lawyers who are granted the privilege to practice law in this state. The only appropriate sanction under these facts is disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This is another disciplinary case involving a criminal prosecutor improperly using the internet, this time it is a federal prosecutor who made biased and inflammatory comments.  The Louisiana Supreme Court (and other courts) have made it very clear that it will not tolerate lawyers, especially those in a position of “public trust”, who anonymously (or otherwise) make biased, improper, and inflammatory comments on the internet.

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding 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 you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  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 Update be sent to you.  Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERT 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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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.
This entry was posted in Attorney discipline, Attorney ethics, joe corsmeier, joseph corsmeier, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer Ethics, Lawyer ethics and social media, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions disbarment, lawyer social media ethics and discipline, Prosectorial misconduct, Prosecutor disbarment for posting anonymous inflammatory comments on internet, Prosecutor misconduct, Prosecutorial misconduct disciplinary sanctions, Prosecutorial misconduct lawyer ethics, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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