Social Media’s Seduction AKA Oops, Did I Do That?
Seduction is usually a good thing. Hmm. Instead, this post riffs on Seduced: For Lawyers, the Appeal of Social Media Is Obvious. It’s Also Dangerous, which is a post on ABA Journal Online.
So here’s the scoop. An attorney named Sean Conway wrote a blog post, about a perceived injustice going on in the Florida courts. According to him, “Judge Cheryl Alemán was asking defendants whether they were ready for trial only about a week after their arraignment”.
Okay, so far, so good.
Except Mr. Conway decided to use inflammatory language in order to get his point across. However, he did go through normal channels initially, and got no satisfaction. Because the problem with the one-week prep lead time is that the lead time, apparently, is normally some four or five weeks. Hence Mr. Conway felt there was an injustice being perpetrated, e. g. the right to a speedy trial.
Over the Top
In addition, he apparently referred to the judge (who is now deceased), as follows:
- “evil, unfair witch”
- “seemingly mentally ill” and
- “clearly unfit for her position and knows not what it means to be a neutral arbiter.”
Now, let’s see. I can go along, perhaps, with unfair as a descriptor, particularly if other defendants, perhaps in other area courts, were being given more lead time. However, after that, Mr. Conway, what the heck are ya doing????
Seriously. So why did he have ever believe that this sort of overly inflammatory rhetoric would be acceptable, at any time, ever? Now, I am not, specifically, suggesting a Bowdlerization of language, or of using softer words to describe hard actions. But we’re not talking about genocide here! Furthermore, we are not describing babies being pummelled or any other awful image you’d like to conjure up (I leave this to your own devices, Gentle Reader). Rather, it is a difference in lead prep time of three to four weeks. And it’s nothing more.
Yet is it a Civil Rights violation? Possibly. I’ll even give him that one, although neither he nor I are the arbiters of same (er, that’s why we have courts in the first place). Rather, the over the top language is just, well, it’s a very, very bad idea.
Because surely the point could have been made with far less negativity. Conway feels that the invective was necessary to get the point across. According to the article, “[t]he Florida Bar, however, concluded that he had violated five ethics rules, including Rule 4-8.2(a) (making false or reckless statements regarding the qualifications or integrity of a judge) and Rule 4-8.4(d) (engaging in professional conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). However, Conway argued that his actions were protected by the First Amendment, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected this. Finally, in the end, Conway acquiesced with a public reprimand and a fine of $1,250.”
The Real Issues
No one said he couldn’t talk or write about this. It’s just the overly inflammatory rhetoric, truly, at issue here. Although, by making the statements, possibly without too many supporting materials, he could’ve still been dinged on Rule 4-8.2(a), the “false or reckless statements” clause. However, truly, the very stuff that he added to try to make his post stand out (e. g. the over the top statements and name-calling) were, most likely, the very things that made the Florida Bar not only sit up and take notice. Those statements probably also made the Florida Bar ding him an amount that, for some people, equals close to one month’s worth of mortgage payments. It’s not a huge sum, but it’s not a small, one, either. Because clearly the Florida Bar was less than pleased.
So, what have we learned here? To my mind, it’s two things. One, we’ve got Free Speech! Yay! Awesome! And, two, that doesn’t mean we should be reckless with it. Because, certainly, if we’re gonna make accusations with our free speech, we might want to do some research and back up our statements well.
Oops, we’ve also, I hope, learned a third and fourth thing as well. Three, Social Media is actual speech and it’s pretty dang permanent. Therefore, we might wanna think twice before putting stuff out there. And four, yeah, we’ve got free speech (yay!). However, it doesn’t mean we have to be jerks about using it.