Legal Ethics

Should lawyer who posted video implicating client be disciplined?

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An Illinois hearing board is recommending a five-month suspension for a lawyer accused of posting a video of an undercover drug buy to YouTube with the caption “Cops and Task Force Planting Drugs.”

The hearing board recommended the suspension for Jesse Raymond Gilsdorf of Mount Sterling, Ill., in a June 4 report. The Legal Profession Blog notes the case.

Gilsdorf testified he initially thought the video exonerated his client, but he later changed his mind. He was accused in an ethics complaint of obtaining the video in discovery, posting it online without his client’s permission in April 2011, and linking to it from his Facebook page, according to the hearing board. Even if the client did give consent, the board said, it wasn’t “informed consent” as required by professional conduct rules.

The video also exposed a confidential informant, and improperly implied police wrongdoing, the hearing board said. “Suffice it to say that the First Amendment does not protect an attorney for making accusations that have no basis in fact,” the board said.

Gilsdorf had admitted hiring a company to post the video because, at the time, he believed it showed drugs being planted on his client, according to the hearing board report. He also testified that his client was well aware he was posting the videos and happy he did it, though he had no written evidence to support his claim. His purpose, he said, was to negate prejudicial pretrial publicity.

Gilsdorf testified he watched the video again after the prosecutor told him it was proof that his client delivered drugs to the buyer. After reviewing the video on a large-screen TV, Gilsdorf said, he decided it did indeed show the drug delivery and he advised his client to accept a plea bargain.

Gilsdorf’s client testified she wasn’t aware in advance that her lawyer had posted the video, but after he did so she posted it to other social media websites. “I guess I was instructed by my attorney to do so,” she said. “I mean, I wasn’t sure how it was going to help me, but I guess that’s why you hire an attorney because they know the law.” She also reviewed the video on big-screen TV and accepted the plea offer, obtaining a sentence of probation.

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