Legal Ethics

NAACP official slams lawyer's 'Ku Klux Coors' Facebook photo; is it an ethics violation?

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An NAACP official says a Connecticut lawyer’s Facebook post is racist and disgusting. The lawyer, on the other hand, says it was intended to test Facebook’s screening policies, which he thinks to cater to the “morbidly sensitive.”

The New Haven lawyer who posted the material is Norm Pattis, who has a reputation as a “passionate if sometimes controversial attorney,” the Connecticut Post reports. He represented the so-called Manhattan madam and lists civil rights cases in his biography.

Pattis’ post comprised a photo of three beer cans with white hoods surrounding a brown beer bottle. The bottle was hanging by the neck from a refrigerator rack. The caption read “Ku Klux Coors.” The Facebook account is no longer online.

Dori Dumas, president of the New Haven chapter of the NAACP, told the Connecticut Post that the photo is “unacceptable, degrading and disgusting.”

“He’s well aware how damaging and racist something like that is,” Dumas said. “He needs to be held accountable.”

Pattis told the Connecticut Post he posted the photo because he heard that Facebook censored it from a friend’s page. He reposted it to see whether it was true, and Facebook took it down.

“Candidly, P.C. police disgust me,” Pattis said. “I’m done with Facebook.”

In a Jan. 3 blog post, Pattis criticized Facebook for tailoring material in feeds based on likes, viewing times and mouse clicks. The tailored information undermines a sense of community and turns people into lab animals, he said, citing information from author Jaron Lanier.

Pattis also expressed his disdain for NAACP criticism in a Jan. 8 blog post.

The Connecticut Post spoke with Leslie C. Levin, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law who specializes in ethical decision-making and lawyer discipline, about whether Pattis could face discipline for the post. Levin said the post was “absolutely appalling” and “beyond the pale,” but she didn’t think discipline was likely under the state’s ethics rules.

She noted that Connecticut’s lawyer ethics rules bar conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, but they don’t specifically address discrimination. (The state hasn’t adopted the ABA Model Rule barring discrimination in conduct related to the practice of law.)

The photo wasn’t posted in the course of representing a client, and it was “not prejudicial to the administration of justice except at a very high level of generality,” Levin said.

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