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Courthouse News Service
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You Don’t Need to Share

February 1, 2021

Thank you, Facebook, for these "cautionary tales" featuring how-to-get-away-with-murder advice and insurrectionist cosplay.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

I love a good cautionary tale. Here’s your caution: Stay off Facebook if you’re criminally inclined.

I know we’ve seen dumb criminals do this again and again. Even insurrectionists seem to think that trashing a capitol building is no different from a European river cruise. There are photo ops to share everywhere.

But you’d think lawyers would know better. Some of them do not.

I bring you the opening line from a ruling filed last month by the Supreme Court of Tennessee: “This case is a cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media.”

The Tennessee justices seriously undersold this tale. This is not a tale of a lawyer uploading embarrassing party photos or love letters to client’s wives. This isn’t even about bragging about absconding with settlement money or gloating over a creative tax shelter.

No, this lawyer — on Facebook! — offered a woman advice on how to get away with murdering her ex-boyfriend. Then he told her “she should ‘keep mum’ and delete the entire comment thread.”

Well, that last part was good advice — if only it hadn’t been on Facebook.

You can guess what happened next — the ex-boyfriend saw the post before it was deleted and reported it. On the plus side, we can all guess that the ex-boyfriend stopped bothering the ex-girlfriend after that, so the advice did some good.

Now comes the weird part: a hearing panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility rejected the lawyer’s arguments — that included claiming he was being sarcastic or offering “dark humor” and that he did nothing wrong — and then recommended a law license suspension of a grand total of 60 days.

Imagine what you’d have to do to get suspended for 90 days.

The state Supreme Court upped the suspension to four years, saying the lawyer, a guy named Winston Sitton, shouldn’t be disbarred because he didn’t make any false statements or urge the woman to commit a crime. All he did was give her “the tools to use deadly force … in a way calculated to make it appear to be self-defense.”

He wasn’t telling her to murder. He was only telling her how to do it. It was educational, so not so bad.

I expect this lawyer will earn a living over the next four years writing criminal advice manuals. You don’t need a license for that.

In other Facebook cautionary news, this photo appeared on Facebook last month of a Pennsylvania judge with her husband cosplaying as a Capitol insurrectionist.

Administrative Judge Kim Eaton got in hot water after Facebook-sharing a photo in which she poses with her husband, who dressed as one of the rioters from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the U.S. Capitol. (Image via Courthouse News)

The judge, an administrative judge with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, issued an apology for the photo and noted she’d been attacked by the media for having what she thought was some light-hearted fun.

It’s important to know when it’s too soon for comedy.

Innovative legislation. A state legislator in Oklahoma has introduced a bill to establish “a big foot hunting season.”

I don’t think anything else needs to be said.

Categories / Op-Ed

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