Lawyer Suspended for Facebook Message
The Kansas Supreme Court has suspended an attorney 6 months for a Facebook message that was deemed the equivalent of “emotional blackmail.” The attorney in question represented a father who was opposing the adoption of his biological daughter by the adoptive parents. In an effort to prevent the adoption from being finalized, the attorney attempted to coax the 18-year-old biological mother of the child into revoking her consent of the adoption. His efforts included sending the young mother the following message via Facebook:
‘I wish to offer you some reasons why you should stand up and fight for your daughter. As you know, I am the attorney for [the biological father]. We held your deposition in my office. I wanted to give you the chance to make things right. This may be your last opportunity to be a mom for [the baby]. As I told you after your deposition in my office, it is not too late. You still have a wonderful opportunity to have a real relationship with your daughter if you so choose. I have attached a document for you to consider signing and bringing to court or to my office. It is a revocation of your consent to adopt. If you sign this document there is a very good chance that you will be able to call [the baby] your own and [the baby] will call you her mom. I can’t begin to explain how beautiful and wonderful parenthood is. I have a little girl myself and she is my world just like you are your dad’s world. [The baby] deserves to know her parents. She deserves to know that you love her and care for her as well. Do not let this opportunity pass you by because you will live with this decision the rest of your life and [the baby] will know someday what happened. [The adoptive parents] do not legally have to ever let you see her again after court (although they are probably trying to convince you otherwise with the idea of an ‘open adoption’). The reason why you don’t know about the trial was because they don’t want you there because that doesn’t help [the adoptive parents] case. This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves. She deserves to have her parents love and care for her. She deserves to know her grandparents and extended family. If she’s adopted, she won’t have that chance. [The biological father] wants to be her dad and to love her. She deserves that. I urge you to print, sign, and notarize this document and bring it to my office before court. Trial is June 27, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse, Division 15. I hope to see you and your father there.’
In examining the attorney’s actions, the court held:
[r]espondent’s conduct “amounted to emotional blackmail” of an unrepresented 18-year-old who was dealing with a process that was already “’emotionally exhausting.'” His “electronic message was designed to embarrass, burden, and create guilt in the mind of the biological mother.” These “bullying tactics directly reflect on [respondent’s] fitness to practice law as an attorney.” Consequently, we hold that the respondent should be suspended for a period of 6 months. A minority of the court would impose a longer period of suspension. We unanimously order a reinstatement hearing under Rule 219.