Blogging About Court Is Off Limits
I’m the first one to admit that sometimes my finger gets a little itchy and I click on “publish” before I should. Hey, we’re busy and in a hurry to move on to the next over-scheduled activity. Sometimes a force bigger than me literally moves my finger to that button by “accident.” If you’re like me, you better skip “penning” any words relating to the judiciary, so you don’t make any blunders that could end up getting you disbarred.
As we were reminded last week in an article posted by the New York Times, lawyers blogging about court don’t enjoy all the same 1st Amendment protections that your typical blogger does.
The story opens by reminding us about the Florida trial lawyer who vehemently disagreed with the way a judge was handling a case related to his criminal defense client. You can tell that this guy is passionate about his job by looking at his website bio, but flaming court personnel is never okay, even here where the judge’s conduct is so outrageous that it landed her on trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
The guy jumped on a fast and loose blog created by some of his fellow defense attorneys and let go with his frustrations. He originally consented to a reprimand from the bar, but the State Supreme Court, which reviews cases like this, demanded briefing on 1st Amendment issues. Weighing the 1st Amendment against his obligations as an officer of the Court, the attorney was on the wrong end of the conclusion and got hit with a $1200 fine.
That relatively de minimis fine is nothing compared to what is going to happen to the hapless attorney who blogged about Judge Clueless.
Your obligations as an officer of the court don’t just extend to cases where you are appearing on behalf of a client, either. Just ask the San Diego attorney who was suspended from the bar for 45 days, paid $14,000 in legal fees and lost his job for blogging about a case where he sat as a juror.
I know it can be tempting to blow off steam in a public way, but officers of the court (yes, you) signed on to a certain code of conduct. To older attorneys, the concept of utter discretion is obvious and often trotted out as an excuse to avoid social media altogether. For younger attorneys who live their lives by the transparency of social media, discretion (at least as the older generation defines it) is going to be a hard lesson to learn.
Don’t forget, online is forever.