Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How not to practice law: advise your client how to make a murder look like self defense... and make sure you do it on Facebook so everyone can read it - UPDATED

The Tennessee Supreme Court has suspended a Nashville attorney after discovering that he posted advice on Facebook about how to make deadly force look like self-defense.

The Tennessean has the story here. For more on the story go to The Legal Profession blog, the Legal Ethics Lawyer blog and Law & Crime.

[UPDATE:  The ABA Journal also has an article here]

The Court's opinion starts by stating "This case is a cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media."  

... No kidding!

Here is the summary of the opinion by the Court: 

The attorney had a Facebook page that described him as a lawyer. A Facebook “friend” involved in a tumultuous relationship posted a public inquiry about carrying a gun in her car. In response to her post, the attorney posted comments on the escalating use of force. He then posted that, if the Facebook friend wanted “to kill” her ex-boyfriend, she should “lure” him into her home, “claim” he broke in with intent to do her harm, and “claim” she feared for her life. The attorney emphasized in his post that his advice was given “as a lawyer,” and if she was “remotely serious,” she should “keep mum” and delete the entire comment thread because premeditation could be used against her “at trial.” In the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, a Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that the attorney’s conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(a) and (d). It recommended suspension of his law license for sixty days. Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, § 15.4, this Court determined that the punishment imposed by the hearing panel appeared inadequate and, after briefing, took the matter under advisement. We now hold that the sanction must be increased. The attorney’s advice, in and of itself, was clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice and violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, his choice to post the remarks on a public platform amplified their deleterious effect. The social media posts fostered a public perception that a lawyer’s role is to manufacture false defenses. They projected a public image of corruption of the judicial process. Under these circumstances, the act of posting the comments on social media should be deemed an aggravating factor that justifies an increase in discipline. Accordingly, we modify the hearing panel’s judgment to impose a four-year suspension from the practice of law, with one year to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation.


UPDATE 2-1-21:  The Louisiana Legal Ethics blog has a comment on the story.

UPDATE 2/2/21: Above the Law picked up the story here.

Thanks to Steven Angell for sending me the Court's opinion. 

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