Monday, March 16, 2015

Louisiana Family Law Lawyer Faces Lengthy Suspension Over "Social Media Blitz"

What professional obligations do lawyers have when commenting on the courts or a judge’s decision? When does commenting through the use of social media cross the ethical line?

A recent article by the ABA Journal’s Debra Cassens Weiss examined these questions.

Last month the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommendeda suspension for a Louisina family lawyer for unethical conduct. It is alleged that family lawyer Joyce Nanine McCool, along with her client, the mother in the case, used various forms of social media to urge readers to sign an online petition and contact two judges in her clients case involving allegations of child sexual abuse by the father. The discipline board recommended a suspension of a year and a day for the “social media blitz”. According to the article, the Discipline Board found that it was both unethical and inappropriate for McCool to have, “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 told the ABA Journal in an email that she disagrees with the recommendation. McCool stated, “I don’t believe the recommendation does anything to protect the profession or make it more ‘honorable,’ ” McCool said. “To the contrary, it undermines it, and further ensures that ‘justice’ will be whatever judges say it is, regardless of the law, ethics, or all the facts and circumstances that would otherwise contradict them.

While a lawyer has a duty to fearlessly advocate for her clients, this kind of online activity clearly crosses numerous ethical lines. Social media is not a toy - a lawyer is required to foster respect for the courts and the justice system, online and offline. Beyond that, it is difficult to contemplate how any of these online activities could have been expected to generate any ultimate benefit whatsoever for the client.

For more context on how Canada's courts view "social media blitzes" in the context of high-conflict family law disputes, see Garry Wise's 2010 post on this blog, BC Spouse Awarded $40,000 for Defamatory Facebook, Internet Posts.

- Kenneth R. Bandeira, Associate Lawyer, Toronto

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