Saturday, June 19, 2021

Unfriend and Suspend

The South Carolina Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for six months for two comments on Facebook

Beginning in June 2020, ODC received complaints from forty-six separate individuals regarding statements Respondent made on his Facebook page. At that time, Respondent maintained a personal Facebook account with a privacy setting of "public," meaning his posts were visible to anyone, not just his Facebook "friends," and even if the person did not have a Facebook account. In his Facebook profile, Respondent identified himself as a lawyer and referenced his law firm.

The court had ordered an interim suspension

All twelve of Respondent's statements are troubling. Nevertheless, we focus our analysis on only two of them. We do this mindful of Respondent's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Importantly, however, Respondent does not raise a First Amendment challenge to discipline. His attorney wrote the Court after oral argument stating, "We do not think it is necessary for the Court to address First Amendment issues." For this reason, we will not analyze the impact of the First Amendment.

On April 5, 2020, Respondent posted an offensive comment regarding tattoos to his Facebook page. In the comment, he challenged his readers, "Prove me wrong. Pro tip: you can't." A reader wrote back suggesting Respondent prove he was right regarding his theory about tattoos. Respondent then stated,

The general statement has exceptions, such as for bikers, sailors, convicts or infantry. But these college educated, liberal suburbanites. No, the rule was written for these boring mother fuckers. And they are everywhere. Fuck em. Especially these females, Jesus Christ!

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd—a black man—was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The racially-charged atmosphere that resulted from Mr. Floyd's murder is well-known. On June 3, 2020, at the height of this racially-charged intensity, Respondent posted the following to his Facebook page,

Here's how much that shitstain's life actually mattered: Stock futures up. Markets moved higher Monday and Tuesday. Fuck you. Unfriend me.

We find these two comments warrant a six-month suspension. These comments are not expressive; they are expressly incendiary. Both are statements by a lawyer on his social media account identifying him as such and listing the name of his law firm. The statements were intended to incite, and had the effect of inciting, gender and race-based conflict beyond the scope of the conversation Respondent would otherwise have with his Facebook "friends." The fact Respondent is a lawyer exacerbated this effect.

The sanction was by consent

we accept the Agreement and suspend Respondent from the practice of law in this state for six months. The suspension is retroactive to Respondent's interim suspension on June 12, 2020.

There are conditions that include an anger management assessment.

Is anyone keeping track of the number of lawyers and judges who have gotten in hot water over revealing themselves on social media? (Mike Frisch)

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