Legal Ethics

Was lawyer's courtroom selfie photo a breach of decorum?

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A Wisconsin lawyer who snapped a selfie of himself and a client after winning a murder acquittal didn’t get a “like” from the judge after he posted the picture on Facebook.

The lawyer, Anthony Cotton of Waukesha, took the photo on Sept. 18 after court had adjourned, while courtroom staffers and others were still in the Milwaukee courtroom, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog Proof and Hearsay. Cotton’s client had been serving a life sentence for the crime before winning a retrial.

Later that day, Cotton got a call from the trial judge, Thomas McAdams, who ordered Cotton to come back to court to explain what happened.

McAdams told Proof and Hearsay he was concerned that family members of the victim could see the photo, or that jurors could have been included in the frame. Cotton apologized and removed the photo from his Facebook page.

Could posting such a photo be an ethics violation? Proof and Hearsay asked Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White, and she pointed to Supreme Court Rule 62, which sets standards of courtesy and decorum in the courtroom. The rule says judges, lawyers and other court officials should “conduct themselves in a manner which demonstrates sensitivity to the necessity of preserving decorum and the integrity of the judicial process.”

Story updated to correct typos on Sept. 30.

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