We’ve posted several blogs that have addressed one’s public online presence (what we refer to as your “Netface”). We’ve advised new bloggers to maintain their personal information (pics of the house, with the address clearly visible, phone numbers… ) off of the blogosphere. We’ve cautioned job seekers with a wild frat/sorority past, captured on pics or video, to try to clean up that history.
Recently, however, we came across a NYT article that outlined the outcome of a lawyer’s blog rant regarding a judge with whom he’d had an unpleasant (courtroom) encounter. You are correct if, based on “rant”, you’ve presumed the blog was written in a very negative tone.
The situation: Sean Conway was steamed at a Fort Lauderdale judge, so he did what millions of angry people do these days: he blogged about her, saying she was an “Evil, Unfair Witch.”
But Mr. Conway is a lawyer. And unlike millions of other online hotheads, he found himself hauled up before the Florida bar, which in April issued a reprimand and a fine for his intemperate blog post.
Upshot: In Mr. Conway’s case, the post that got him in trouble questioned the motives and competence of Judge Cheryl Aleman, and appeared on a rowdy blogcreated by a criminal defense lawyers’ group in Broward County.
All I had left were my words,” Mr. Conway said, adding that he decided to use the strongest ones he had.
Mr. Conway initially consented to a reprimand from the bar last year, but the State Supreme Court, which reviews such cases, demanded briefs on First Amendment issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida argued that Mr. Conway’s statements were protected speech that raised issues of legitimate public concern. Ultimately the court affirmed the disciplinary agreement and Mr. Conway paid $1,200.
Last word: For his part, Mr. Conway noted that the judge he criticized was reprimanded last year by the Florida Supreme Court, which affirmed a state panel’s criticism of what it called an “arrogant, discourteous and impatient” manner with lawyers in another case. (Judge Aleman did not return calls seeking comment.) Mr. Conway said his practice was “probably enhanced by the experience” of going public.
But the State Supreme Court ultimately concluded that his online “personal attack” was “not uttered in an effort to expose a valid problem” with the judicial system. And so, the court concluded, the statements “fail as protected free speech under the First Amendment.”
Your call: ethical violation or execution of the blogger’s 1st Amendment right?
On a lighter note, a lawyer, who shall remain nameless, asked and received permission to delay a case based on a funeral. Well, the funeral mention did appear on his Facebook page, so did the next days of relentless mojito-drinking, drunken binges… Rule 1: Don’t “friend” the judge in your case (or your boss, in general) and Rule 2: Don’t status your night out in MePa, post your first skyjump lesson pics or poll your friends re: a sex change operation consideration on Twitter or Facebook when you are supposed to be grieving, sick or out of the country on a family emergency.
BNI Operatives; Street smart: Net savvy.
As always, be safe.
Filed under: Blogging tips, facebook, Legal Decisions | Tagged: 1st amendment, aclu, blogger, disciplinary, facebook, judge, lawyer, new york times, NYT, post, ruling, twitter | 2 Comments »