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Tweeting lawyer gets lightest sanction for disbarment prediction during AG’s ethics hearing

Posted Jan 15, 2014 7:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A three-judge hearing panel has recommended an informal admonishment for a former research attorney who tweeted that former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline was a “naughty boy” and predicted he would be disbarred for seven years.

The disciplinary panel’s recommendation (PDF) in the case of Sarah Peterson Herr is the most lenient sanction that can be imposed, the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Associated Press report. Herr was fired from her job as a research attorney for the Kansas Court of Appeals for her tweets in November 2012 when Kline appeared before the state supreme court for an ethics hearing.

Under the Kansas Supreme Court rule (PDF) governing the case, the matter is deemed closed because of the recommendation for only an informal admonition. There will be no appeal.

Herr told the panel in a Dec. 20 hearing that she wrote “dumb things” that were jokes and opinions, and she didn’t intend for her comments to become public or appear in the news media, the Capital-Journal says. She watched the hearing from her office computer. Among her tweets (which misspelled Kline’s name):

“You can watch that naughty naughty boy, Mr. Kilein [sic], live! live.kscourts.org/live.php.”

“Why is Phil Klein [sic] smiling? There is nothing to smile about douchebag.”

“I predict that he will be disbarred for a period not less than 7 years.”

The three-judge hearing panel said Herr’s disbarment prediction misrepresented the law and facts, and implied influence she did not have. In addition, "the overall tone of her comments revealed a disrespect for a litigant before the appellate courts as well as a disrespect for for the Supreme Court panel hearing the case," the panel said.

The hearing panel also cited mitigating circumstances, including Herr's apology, her self-reporting of the possible disciplinary violation, her lack of prior misconduct, her cooperation, and her lack of law practice experience.

Contrary to Herr's prediction, the Kansas Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Kline in October 2013 for his conduct during the investigations of abortion clinics. The action allows Kline to reapply for reinstatement in three years.

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