Even the best lawyers don’t win every case they take on. While a client deserves the best defence or offence possible, sometimes the facts cannot be marshalled in a client’s favour, despite a lawyer’s competence and zeal.
Other times, the law simply does not support the position advanced by counsel on behalf of a client. In cases like these, most lawyers are smart enough to tell their clients, in writing, that their chances of success are dim and the cost of pursuing a weak claim may be unjustifiable.
Remarkably, many clients continue to pursue a case even in the face of such an opinion and that is certainly a client’s prerogative.
Family law lawyer Joyce Nanine McCool acted for mother, Raven Boyd, in a difficult custody case that included allegations that the children’s father had sexually abused them.
After rounds of litigation before two different judges, Judge Deborah Gambrell and Judge Dawn Amacker, of Mississippi and Louisiana respectively, Ms. McCool was disappointed with her lack of success in proving her client’s claims and decided to implement an out-of-court strategy.
She initiated an online petition that implored potential supporters to:
“Sign our petition telling the judges that there can be no justice … if the law and evidence is ignored, Ask yourself, what if these were your daughters? … Horrified? Call the judges and let them know.”
The website promoting the petition also contained information that was not to be made public due to a sealing order. As well, Ms. McCool linked audio recordings of her client questioning the children about the alleged sexual abuse, again contrary to an order made by the Court.
But there was much more…the website provided misleading and inflammatory statements about Judges Gambrell and Judge Amacker and their alleged refusal to listen to recordings of the children accusing their father of molestation:
“Now consider that no judge has ever heard those recordings. Why? Because for 4.5 years, they have simply refuse (sic) to do so. On August 16, 2011, Judge Deborah Gambrell in the Chancery Court of Marion County, Mississippi, once again refused to admit all of Raven’s evidence, including these recordings, and ordered that H (REDACTED) and Z (REDACTED) have visits with their father in the house where they both report having been molested by their father in the past.”
However, that statement was completely false as Ms. McCool later admitted she did not bring the recordings to court and did not seek to enter the recordings as evidence at any time, either before Judge Gambrell or Judge Amacker.
Ms. McCool’s media campaign also included the posting of misleading articles online, and twitter rants with links to the online petition:
“Judge Gambrell at it again – turned a 4 YO child over to a validated abuser – PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT WILL TAKE FOR EVERYONE TO SAY ‘ENOUGH’.”
“Make judges protect H (REDACTED) and Z (REDACTED) from abuse by their father!…”
Judge Gambrell brought a formal complaint about Ms. McCool’s behaviour to the Bar Association after receiving a barrage of telephone calls from members of the public and multiple copies of the petition and assorted tweets.
The disciplinary panel determined that Ms. McCool knowingly, if not intentionally. resorted to a campaign intended to “intimidate and influence the judges’ future rulings in pending litigation…and threatened the independence and integrity of the judiciary…causing the judges to be concerned for their personal safety”.
An aggravating factor was the use of the internet, a medium that would display Ms. McCool’s unprofessional tactics for a long time to come.
Her punishment? A suspension of one year and one day, together with a mandatory ethics program.
Clearly a stiff penalty, to lose one’s source of income for a year, but Ms. McCool’s lack of remorse and lack of understanding as to the consequences of her behaviour contributed to the panel’s decision.
Her zeal to win her client’s case made her lose sight of her obligations as an officer of the court, a mistake that will be costly for her.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang