Lawyers using social media: beware!

The Louisiana Supreme Court has disbarred a lawyer for launching a “viral campaign to influence and intimidate” judges who presided over her friend’s child custody dispute.

In a split decision, the Court found that the attorney used social media and blogs to disseminate false and misleading information about a judge’s handling of the case, which amounted to an unethical attempt to influence additional rulings.

The Court further found that the use of online petitions, Twitter messages and blog posts to tell the public to call the judges and let them know they are watching them and were “horrified” by the rulings was in violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 3.5, attempting to influence judge improperly, and 8.4, violating rules through acts of another. The court stated that the messages the judges received from people who responded to the social media campaign constituted ex parte communications induced or encouraged by the lawyer. The lawyer alleged that her statements in social media were protected by the First Amendment.

Disciplinary counsel recommended that the lawyer be suspended for one year and one day. The Court rejected the recommendation and disbarred her. The dissenting justices indicated that they felt a three-year suspension was appropriate.