Today’s IT Support guest blog post is from the law office of Slater & Zurz, and is good advice for not only social media usage in SMB’s, but in our personal life. Even when not involved in a legal dispute, it is always wise to BE CAREFUL.
EVERYONE INVOLVED IN AN OHIO LEGAL PROCEEDING SHOULD USE SOCIAL MEDIA WITH CAUTION
People involved in court proceedings, for example, lawyers, divorce clients, or persons hoping to obtain payment from insurance companies for an injury claim have recently fallen victim to repercussions of their postings on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Social media users must also be very careful about e-mail and text communications.
One of the latest victims (July 14, 2014, Atlanta Journal-Constitution), was an Atlanta prosecutor who was suspended from her job when she replied to an e-mail on a defendant’s notification to the court that the defendant was unable to attend trial due to illness. The prosecutor, Lori Canfield, typed on her computer, “Surprise, surprise.” Her comment was only intended for one e-mail recipient, but Canfield mistakenly hit “Reply all” and sent the message to all parties associated with the indictment in the case.
It turned out the defendant was Beverly Hall, a Stage IV cancer victim, and a former school superintendent who was accused in an alleged conspiracy to correct students’ scores on standardized tests. Hall’s physician verified Hall was too ill to be in court to testify and the prosecutor’s two-word e-mail reply to all was viewed by some as indicating bias against the defendant.
The prosecutor said she was a former cancer patient herself and apologized for her “reply all” error. Her boss removed her from the trial team in the case and suspended her for three days without pay.
Social Media Blunder in an Auto Accident Case
In a recent auto accident case, a Pennsylvania motorist, Bill McMillen, filed a lawsuit against a driver who had rear-ended him. Lawyers for the other driver checked McMillen’s Facebook page and found he had taken a fishing trip and attended an auto race after the rear-end collision occurred. The opposing attorneys, representing an insurance company, used this information to suggest that McMillen wasn’t as badly injured as he claimed, and even persuaded a judge to allow them to look at more private areas of McMillen’s Facebook account that the lawyers normally would not had access to.
In divorce cases, social media have been used to many times to implicate a party to a case in an affair. In some instances, lawyers for a divorcing husband or wife may use Facebook or Twitter to suggest a client’s former marriage partner would not be suitable for primary custody of a minor child.
An attorney representing someone in a divorce could also use Facebook or Instagram, or other social media photos taken in exotic locations, or snapped at entertainment sites, such as casinos or Disney attractions, to indicate in court that someone may be hiding assets, or is living a more luxurious lifestyle than that claimed in court.
Clients are even at risk when they use social media to comment online on their attorneys or other matters. especially if those comments fit the definition on defamation in a particular state.
A Texas law firm, Grissom and Thompson, (July 14, 2014, ABA Journal online) recently sued a former client who posted negative comments on a social media site. After not receiving attorney fees, the firm initially sued the client. The firm was then the subject of a review on “Yelp,” a social media site, where the ex-client alleged the firm would “take everything you’ve got.”
The lawsuit, filed by Grissom & Thompson at the end of June 2014, alleges Austin resident Joseph Browning defamed the firm and wrote a review about it that was “blatantly false,” with no basis in fact.
How to Avoid Social Media Problems
When you have a legal claim pending, or are involved in any legal matter, experts say the best idea is to dismantle your social media accounts. If you must maintain a social media presence (for example, you are looking for a job, or you find this is the only way to communicate with your son at college), avoid discussing your lawsuit via social media.
Remove any status updates or photographs from your sites that could be misinterpreted. Do not post new pictures of yourself engaged in activity when you are claiming that you are barely capable of performing your daily tasks. Set your security features so that others cannot “tag” you and post your photo without your prior approval. Ask friends to remove any comments about you that could be misinterpreted.
At intervals, Facebook will ask its members to accept “Friend Requests.” Do not accept these requests if you do not know the person well and/or you do not trust them. People may try to “friend” you to spy on you.
If you have questions about using social media during a legal proceeding, consult with your attorney to be certain you are not using social media in a way that could harm your chances of getting a fair result in court.