Rejecting the notion that attorney’s actions were protected by the First Amendment, the Louisiana Supreme Court sanctioned an attorney for “using the internet and social media to elicit outrage in the general public and to encourage others to make direct contact with judges in an effort to influence their handling of pending cases” in violation of Rules 3.5(a) and (b), as well as 8.4(c), to the extent that some of the information disseminated about the two presiding judges was false and misleading, and 8.4(d). “We disagree and take strong exception to respondent’s artful attempt to use the First Amendment as a shield against her clearly and convincingly proven ethical misconduct. As the United States Supreme Court noted in Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030 (1991): ‘It is unquestionable that in the courtroom itself, during a judicial proceeding, whatever right to “free speech” an attorney has is extremely circumscribed. An attorney may not, by speech or other conduct, resist a ruling of the trial court beyond the point necessary to preserve a claim for appeal.’ …. By holding the privilege of a law license, respondent, along with all members of the bar, is expected to act accordingly. This is particularly so when a lawyer is actively participating in a trial, particularly an emotionally charged child custody proceeding. Respondent in this instance ‘is not merely a person and not even merely a lawyer. She is an intimate and trusted and essential part of the machinery of justice, an “officer of the court” in the most compelling sense.’ And as such, her ‘obedience to ethical precepts required abstention from what in other circumstances might be constitutionally protected speech,’ to preserve the integrity and independence of the judicial system. The appropriate method for challenging a judge’s decisions and evidentiary rulings, as respondent even conceded, is through the writ and appeal process, not by starting a social media blitz to influence the judges’ and this Court’s rulings in pending matters and then claiming immunity from discipline through the First Amendment. Rather than protected speech, the evidence clearly and convincingly shows respondent’s online and social media campaign was nothing more than an orchestrated effort to inflame the public sensibility for the sole purpose of influencing this Court and the judges presiding over the pending litigation. As such it most assuredly threatened the independence and integrity of the courts in the underlying sealed domestic matters. Moreover, the testimony irrefutably establishes both presiding judges perceived the campaign as a threat to their personal security and as an attempt to intimidate and harass them into ruling as the petitioners wanted.” In re McCool, 2015-0284 (La. 6/30/2015).
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