Legal Ethics

Lawyer agrees to five-year suspension for advising client to clean up his Facebook photos

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A Virginia lawyer who advised a plaintiff suing over the death of his wife to clean up his Facebook photos has agreed to a five-year suspension.

Matthew Murray was unavailable for comment on his suspension because he was volunteering with a group performing maintenance on the Appalachian Trail, relatives told the Daily Progress. The Legal Profession Blog notes the July 17 suspension order, published online on Aug. 2.

Murray’s client, Isaiah Lester, had sued Allied Concrete for the death of his wife caused when a cement truck crossed the center line and tipped over on the Lesters’ car.

Murray had instructed a paralegal to tell Lester to clean up his Facebook page after lawyers for Allied Concrete sought screen shots and other information, the Daily Progress says. Lester deleted 16 photos, including one in which he held a beer can and wore a T-shirt that said “I (heart) hot moms.” Defense lawyers recovered the photos before trial and jurors were told about the scrubbed photos.

As a sanction, a trial judge had ordered Murray and Lester to pay $722,000 to lawyers representing Allied Concrete for their legal fees. The judge had also slashed Lester’s $8.5 million jury award, but the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated the verdict, the Daily Progress reported in January.

The suspension order says Murray violated ethics rules that govern candor toward the tribunal, fairness to opposing party and counsel, and misconduct.

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