December 9th, 2013
‘I Love Hot Moms!’ How a Picture, a Bad Decision and Facebook Cost One Lawyer His Career and Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars
Surely by now most, if not all, of us finally understand the dangers of social media. Not long ago Bordas & Bordas attorney Michelle Marinacci wrote an informative blog about how employers have used Facebook posts to justify employee firings
. More and more stories keep popping up which showing poor social media decision making. A Facebook photograph recently cost one Virginia attorney his job, hundreds of thousands of dollars and his law license
. The picture, however, was not of the attorney, it was of one of his clients.
The client was the surviving husband of a woman who was killed in a tragic automobile accident involving a truck owned and operated by a concrete company. Following his wife's death, the man retained an attorney and presented a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit. Sometime after his wife's death, and during the pendency of the lawsuit, the man was photographed at a party wearing a shirt bearing the phrase "I Love Hot Moms!" Of course, the picture was posted to Facebook. An attorney working for the concrete company was ultimately able to view the man's Facebook page when the man himself sent a message to the attorney. Not surprisingly, the attorney then followed up with formal discovery requests to be provided with copies of information and posts from the man's Facebook page. To prove that bad decisions are not limited to clients, the attorney representing the family of the deceased woman immediately advised his staff to have their client "clean up" his Facebook page to avoid such evidence from showing up at trial. The client subsequently erased several pictures from his page.-- article about the case
Not surprisingly, the attorney and his client's actions were later uncovered and the photographs were provided to the defense. The attorney did not reveal that he had affirmatively asked the client to clean up his page until after a jury verdict had already been issued. The man had been awarded $6.2 million dollars for the loss of his wife. The trial judge ruled that amount to be excessive under the circumstances and reduced that award to $2.1 million, but an appeals court later restored the full verdict. Once the true nature of the attorney's actions came to light, and additional discovery was conducted, the trial court found it necessary to fine the attorney and his client $722,000 in attorney's fees. The attorney has now resigned from his law firm and ultimately faced state bar disciplinary proceedings. Recently it was announced that the attorney has agreed to a five year suspension
for "violating professional rules that govern candor toward the tribunal, fairness to opposing party ad counsel, and misconduct."
The Plaintiff made a poor decision when he wore the t-shirt and when he posted the picture to Facebook. I don't know that man and I can't imagine the stress of losing my wife.
I can only imagine that his actions relate back to the tremendous stress and sorrow surrounding his loss. While the defendants would likely have used the photographs to argue that he must not have been that torn up about the loss of his wife, his attorney could have, and should have, demonstrated how the loss of his wife turned the man's life upside down and influenced him to do things he never would have done if his wife were still with him.
Attorneys are professionals. As with any profession we are supposed to hold ourselves to higher standards and we take oath accordingly. The attorney here made a bad decision. A bad decision that has cost him his profession and a significant amount of money. Attorneys have to have the courage and the fortitude to stand up and do the right thing
at all times.
The attorneys at Bordas & Bordas pride themselves on standing up and doing the right thing. We are frequently called on to represent individuals who have lost loved ones in tragic and preventable accidents. Our job is not just to investigate the case and get the best possible result for the loved ones left behind, we firmly believe it is our job to help grieving families through all the difficult decisions they will face and to help them move forward with their lives as best they can.