Thursday, November 11, 2021
An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a 60-day suspension for an attorney's response to a bar inquiry into the creation of a Facebook page opposing the retention of a judge.
But the hearing board rejected charges of false statements on the web page, which were not proven as posted by the accused attorney
When she set up the GoDaddy account, and purchased the Fire the Liar website, Respondent used the email address email@example.com. This email address belonged to Respondent, as did a Dinmont terrier named Madeline. Respondent used the name Madeline Dinmont in all her communications with GoDaddy. According to Respondent’s testimony, whenever she set up a website or purchased a domain name for someone else, she used whatever name was on the account.
Thereafter, Respondent designed and built the Fire the Liar website, using a GoDaddy web builder. According to Respondent’s testimony, this entailed creating a structure where text or images could be put in later. Respondent put in some basic content, such as information about the group, and links to articles about Judge Gleeson. She also purchased a second domain name, firejudgegleeson.com for the group and worked with GoDaddy representatives to ensure that anyone who clicked on a post on that domain would automatically be directed to the Fire the Liar website. This was done, at the request of group members, as Facebook had blocked access to the Fire the Liar website. Respondent testified that, otherwise, she did not write any of the Fire the Liar website’s content or post any pictures on the site. After she built the frame, she turned the website over to others. Respondent was actively involved with the website from September 2018 until early October 2018.
Based on Respondent’s testimony, she also gave the anti-retention group a Facebook page she was no longer using. Respondent had set up this Facebook page in 2012, under the name Madeline Dinmont, to post pictures of her dog. That Facebook page was linked to the firstname.lastname@example.org email account. A comment posted on the Madeline Dinmont Facebook complained about Facebook blocking access to the Fire the Liar website. Respondent denied posting that comment.
The Complaint charged Respondent with violating Rule 8.2(a) by making the October 4, 2018 statements on the Fire the Liar website. Before and after that date, Respondent had access to the Fire the Liar website and took substantive actions related to that website. However, no evidence directly connected Respondent with these posts. Significantly, the Administrator did not present any evidence which established that Respondent was the only person able to post material on the website.
Respondent set up a structure in which negative comments could be made, regardless of their truth or falsity, about the integrity of a judge. She knew or should have anticipated the type of material that might be posted, yet Respondent allowed persons she had no basis to expect would exercise any restraint to have access to the website. We found that behavior extremely troubling and the posts themselves highly offensive.
The Rule 8.2 charge in that count was not sustained.
A post that falsely accused the judge of KKK ties also could not be attributed to Respondent.
But there was misconduct in her response to the investigation
During Respondent’s sworn statement, counsel for the Administrator inquired about the Fire the Liar website. Respondent denied any involvement with setting up the site and denied knowledge of specifics concerning the site. Given her activity in relation to that website, Respondent’s answers were false, and Respondent knew they were false. The Administrator proved Respondent violated Rules 8.1(a) and 8.4(c).
While speaking with a GoDaddy customer service representative about the Fire the Liar website, Respondent stated that the subject of the website orchestrated an attempt to set up another judge for murder. While false and baseless, Respondent’s comment was made in a very limited context, unrelated to any court proceeding, and did not identify anyone by name. Given these circumstances, the statement did not violate Rule 8.2(a).
Respondent’s misconduct is serious. She lied to the ARDC about the manner in which she assisted the anti-retention group in setting up the website, on which some of the false accusations against Judge Gleeson were made. Given all the circumstances, Respondent’s misconduct deserves some period of suspension, to impress upon Respondent and the bar as a whole the need for honesty in responding to the ARDC. That said, a short suspension, with the requirement that Respondent successfully complete the ARDC’s Professionalism Seminar, should suffice to serve those purposes.