Louisiana Disbars Attorney For Social Media Campaign Against Judiciary

IN RE McCOOL, La: Supreme Court 2015 – Google Scholar:

The respondent in this matter was disbarred because she made false and defamatory statements about judges.

 By way of background, respondent was friends with Raven Skye Boyd Maurer (“Raven”). Following Raven’s divorce in 2006, she and her former husband were involved in a bitter child custody dispute. Raven accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing their two young daughters, H. and Z.,[2] and unsuccessfully sought to terminate his parental rights in proceedings pending in Mississippi before Judge Deborah Gambrell.[3] Respondent is not admitted to the Mississippi Bar and was not admitted pro hac vice in Raven’s Mississippi case, but she did offer assistance to Raven as a friend.

Meanwhile, respondent filed a petition in St. Tammany Parish on behalf of Raven’s new husband, who sought to adopt H. and Z. The presiding judge, Judge Dawn Amacker, stayed the intrafamily adoption proceedings pending resolution of the Mississippi matter. Judge Amacker also declined to exercise subject matter jurisdiction in response to a motion for emergency custody filed by respondent on Raven’s behalf. After Judge Amacker issued her ruling declining to exercise subject matter jurisdiction, respondent filed a writ application with the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which was denied.[4] On August 31, 2011, this Court likewise denied writs. Maurer v. Boyd, 11-1787 (La. 8/31/11), 68 So. 3d 517.
Unhappy with the various rulings made by Judge Gambrell and Judge Amacker and believing those rulings were legally wrong, respondent drafted an online petition entitled “Justice for [H] and [Z]” which she and Raven posted on the internet at change.org, along with a photo of the two girls. With regard to the Mississippi proceeding before Judge Gambrell, the online petition stated:

To Judge Deborah Gambrell, we, the undersigned, ask that you renounce jurisdiction in this matter to the Louisiana court because the children have lived exclusively in Louisiana for the past three years. Their schools, teachers, physicians, therapists, little sister and brother and the vast majority of significant contacts are now in Louisiana. There is also an adoption proceeding pending in Louisiana over which Louisiana has jurisdiction and in the interest of judicial economy, and the best interest of the girls, Louisiana is the more appropriate forum to oversee ensure [sic] the “best interest” of the girls are protected. If you refuse to relinquish jurisdiction to Louisiana, we insist that you remove the Guardian Ad Litem currently assigned to the case, and replace him with one that has the proper training and experience in investigating allegations of child sexual abuse in custody proceedings. We further insist that, in keeping [with] S.G. v. D.C. 13 So. 3d 269 (Miss. 2009), you specifically define the Guardian Ad Litem’s role in the suit; require the new Guardian Ad Litem [to] prepare a written report; require that the report be shared with all parties prior to a hearing; that all proceeding be conducted on the record, with advance notice and opportunity to be heard, and that an evidentiary hearing be conducted to review the allegations of child sexual abuse, and that no visitation be allowed until you have seen all of the evidence.

As to Judge Amacker and the Louisiana proceedings, the petition stated:

To Judge Amacker, we, the undersigned, insist that you withdraw the unlawful stay of the adoption proceedings currently pending in your court, and, in accordance with La.Ch.C. art. 1253, a hearing be set with all due speed to allow the girls’ stepfather to show why it is in the girls’ best interest that they be adopted by him, thereby terminating all parental rights of the girls’ biological father.

Respondent re-posted the online petition on her blog site and in online articles she authored, one of which again included a photo of the two girls. She provided contact information for the judges’ offices and this Court, and added comments in which she solicited and encouraged others to express their feelings to the judges and this Court about the pending cases:

In spite of overwhelming evidence that the girls have been abused by their father, the judge in Mississippi, Judge Deborah Gambrell, of the Chancery Court of Marion County, Mississippi, refuses to even look at the evidence, and has now ordered the girls be sent to unsupervised visitation with their father.

Judge Dawn Amacker, in the 22nd JDC, Division L, for the Parish of St. Tammany in Louisiana also refused to protect the girls, even though she has the power and authority to protect them. RM now has an application to the LA supreme court, asking that it order Judge Amacker to protect the children.

Insist that Judge Amacker and Judge Gambrell do their jobs! If you want more info, go to [website] and read the writ application to the LA supreme court.

Please sign the petition, circulate it to all of your friends and families and call Judge Amacker and Judge Gambrell during the hours of 8:30 to 5:00 starting Monday, August 15 to ask why they won’t follow the law and protect these children. Let them know you’re watching and expect them to do their job and most of all, make sure these precious little girls are safe!

Call the Louisiana Supreme Court and tell them you want the law to protect these girls [phone number]. [A]sk about the writ pending that was filed by attorney Nanine McCool on Friday, August 12, 2011.

Let’s turn this around and be [H’s] hero. Please sign the Care2 petition and continue to call Judge Gambrell to ask her why she is unwilling to afford [H] and [Z] simple justice.

You can sign the petition and lend your voice to this cause here. Or, you can contact directly. Contact information is: [provided contact information for the judges].

In response to the postings made by respondent, on August 14, 2011—two days prior to a hearing in Mississippi on Raven’s motion for contempt and to terminate her former husband’s parental rights—Judge Gambrell’s staff received an e-mail from Heather Lyons, a signer of the online petition. Ms. Lyons stated she lived and voted in Forrest County, Mississippi, and she would “be paying attention” to Raven’s case “due to the fact that Judge Gambrell refused to hear evidence of abuse in the case of little girls who are likely being molested by their father. She has an obligation to protect our most vulnerable children. Please do not let them down judge!””

The Louisiana Supreme Court held that McCool had violated Rule 3.5(a) and (b) and Rule 8.4(a) by conducting an online campaign and by faxing copies of certain online petitions to the courts. The Court further held that McCool violated Rule 8.4(c) by making false statements about the court proceedings in the adoption matter by claiming that the judges had “refused” to hear certain evidence. Lastly, the Court held that McCool had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (Rule 8.4(d)). The court held that McCool was disbarred.

This case is similar to other cases involving similar conduct, such as the JoAnne Denison case in Illinois. Attacking the integrity of judges and the fairness of judicial proceedings in social media will often merit the most severe sanctions. Lawyers who engage in such conduct are risking their professional lives.

It is always good to remember that you can criticize the reasoning of a judicial opinion, but you cannot make false statements impugning the integrity of the judiciary. The courts regard defamatory statements as an attack on the integrity of the entire legal system.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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