Wednesday, February 1, 2023
The Proof Is In The Tweets
A District of Columbia Hearing Committee recommends a 60-day suspension with fitness for an attorney's misconduct in civil litigation and failure to respond to the bar investigation.
On January 21, 2015, Respondent filed a civil suit on behalf of Brittany Cobb against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) in D.C. Superior Court. DCX 8 at 0092-98. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that Ms. Cobb had been a passenger on a Yellow Line metro train earlier that month, and that she had suffered damages when her train became disabled and filled with smoke while inside a tunnel.
The client died and her mother, representing her estate, retained new counsel
On February 20, 2019, with Respondent’s authorization, Mr. Regan substituted himself as plaintiff’s counsel in the Cobb case.
After a confidential settlement had been reached
On or about July 30, 2019, Respondent posted on Twitter in a single, public Tweet under the username @DJacksonNBRC, with the associated name “Darlene Jackson, GOP”:
a. Unredacted portions of the court’s sealed order, including the case caption, as well as additional details discussed in the attached Confidential Appendix, ¶ 33(a);
b. Emails between Respondent and [plaintiff's counsel]Mr. Trebach regarding provisions of the sealed settlement order;
c. A picture of Mr. Trebach;
d. A news article regarding Ms. Cobb’s death; and
e. The words “Where’s MY CA$H [sic].” Tr. 95-102, 108-11 (Trebach); DCX 6 at 0030 (indicating date); DCX 25; DCX 26.
The Tweet mentioned the accounts of several high-profile personalities, including @realDonaldTrump, @FLOTUS, @cabinet, @WhiteHouse, @MarshaBlackburn, as well as several major news outlets, including @ABC, @nbc, @CBS, @CNN, @washpost, and @thehill. DCX 25.
Mr. Trebach learned of the tweet and reported it to the judge, who held a show cause hearing
...Ms. Jackson then proceeded to speak in a rambling and somewhat incomprehensible manner about how a woman is the sole purpose of why we have a universe. In support of this position she cited to the process of child birth, James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World,” and Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work.” At other times in the hearing she invoked the “me too” movement.
The matter was referred to Disciplinary Counsel, who sought a response
On August 18, 2020, one day after Disciplinary Counsel notified her of its investigation, Respondent posted a Tweet that included images of the District of Columbia Bar’s logo, the words “Office of Disciplinary Counsel,” and the question “Where you At [sic]?”
No response but
Between September 17 and 26, 2020, Respondent posted four separate Tweets, all of which included images explicitly referencing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, juxtaposed to phrases such as “Lying and Stealing,” “Just Ask Becky,” “Smooth Criminals,” and “Investigate the Investigators.” Tr. 194-99 (Matinpour); DCX 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39. “Becky” is the first name of the Senior Assistant Disciplinary Counsel who notified Respondent of Disciplinary Counsel’s investigation and who sent the September 17, 2020, follow-up letter.
The Hearing Committee concludes that Disciplinary Counsel has demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent violated Rule 3.4(c) when she knowingly disclosed portions of the court’s sealed order through a Tweet that Respondent posted on or about July 30, 2019. There is no question that Respondent was aware that the order was sealed, as it was explicitly identified as such in the order. See DCX 24 at 0204. The post plainly shows unredacted portions of the order. FF 33. The Tweet also displays what appear to be copies of emails between Respondent and Mr. Trebach, and the Tweet “tagged” his law firm.
Failure to respond
there is ample evidence to demonstrate that Respondent was fully aware of Disciplinary Counsel’s investigation. For example, on August 18, 2020, one day after Disciplinary Counsel sent its first letter to Respondent, she posted on Twitter an image of the District of Columbia Bar’s logo and the words “Office of Disciplinary Counsel.” FF 49. Second, during the September 17-26, 2020 time period, Respondent posted four separate Tweets that explicitly referenced the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and also referenced the first name of the attorney in its office who sent Respondent the Office’s second letter.
First and foremost, as explained above, Respondent’s misconduct almost resulted in dismissal of her client’s case. Along the way, Respondent violated the court’s stay order by issuing an improper subpoena for discovery. Respondent again violated a court rule and acted in a wholly unprofessional manner, by posting portions of the court’s sealed order on Twitter. Finally, the Hearing Committee cannot ignore Judge Chutkan’s first-hand observations concerning Respondent’s proffered explanations for her misconduct. See FF 44.
Nor has Respondent acknowledged the seriousness of her misconduct. Respondent wholly disregarded her obligation to cooperate with Disciplinary Counsel. Respondent never replied to its inquiries, even though it is clear that she
was properly served with them. Moreover, Respondent’s Tweets showed that she knew about that investigation.
The Hearing Committee does not know if Respondent is currently engaged in the practice of law. But Disciplinary Counsel’s proposed fitness requirement is amply supported by the pattern of Respondent’s wrongdoing.