Social Media: Part 1 – Summary of Recent Ohio Supreme Court disciplinary opinion Thumbnail

Social Media: Part 1 – Summary of Recent Ohio Supreme Court disciplinary opinion

The Information Age has forced us to advance the social evolution from personal use of on-line or social media to professional use of mass forms of media as well. Professional use may have started as a mechanism to reach large audiences for marketing with a simple “click” or “tap” and there are Ohio Advisory Opinions applying the Rules of Professional Conduct that limit the use of mass media as it relates to confidentiality, creating attorney-client relationships, advertising and solicitation. (See, e.g., Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2017-03, issued April 7, 2017). However, the scope and application of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct on an attorney’s use of mass media or electronic communications is not limited to these four topics and is continuing to be reviewed and applied to broader uses of media, including social media. For example, The Supreme Court of Ohio recently suspended an Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas judge for six months (suspension stayed if certain conditions are met) for entangling his use of Facebook and instant messaging with a “Facebook Friend” that resulted in inappropriate ex parte communications with a party that appeared and/or has on-going appearances in his court (Disciplinary Counsel v. Winters, 2021-Ohio-2753).  The Ohio Supreme Court opined that the communications from the Facebook user (regardless of whether it was in his role as a judge or personal use) resulted in a failure to “promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety.” Id. at ¶29.  Such a situation could also apply to an attorney where his/her post is construed as a violation of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct – Prof. Cond. R. 4.1 (an attorney may not knowingly make a false statement to others); Prof. Cond. R. 8.4(c) (an attorney may not engage in conduct involving acts of dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; and Prof. Cond. R. 8.4(h) (an attorney may not engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law).

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