“Legal Ethics: Social Media Edition”

I’ve written before about social media and the practice of law — How to Destroy a Legal Career with Facebook The Case of the Juror with the Twitchy Thumbs – the Oregon juror sanctioned for sending Tweets from the jury box, and Investigating with Social Media. And of course, I’ve written about other dumb things lawyers do. Today, I’m sharing a blog that combines the topics, from NW Lawyer, the Washington State Bar News blog.  Of course, your lawyer protagonist would never do such things, but the lawyer on the other side of a big case? The cute guy lawyer your protag used to see in the courthouse and now she wonders where he went — or why he’s now pulling espressos at Starbucks instead of working in the defender’s office?

“Legal Ethics: Social Media Edition


social mediaSocial media has potential pitfalls for everyone, but particularly lawyers. Take a look at these stories about lawyers using — and sometimes abusing — social media, and breathe a sigh of relief that you haven’t made any of these mistakes (you haven’t, right?)

About the Author

The Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) is responsible for reviewing, investigating and prosecuting grievances about the ethical conduct of Washington lawyers. Learn more about the ODC.”

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Happy Birthday, Dame Agatha!

Dame AgathaAgatha Christie, born Sept 15, 1890, died Jan 12, 1976

Who among us mystery writers and readers didn’t race through her books, many of us as teenagers, learning for the first time about life in English country houses and villages, about the years between the wars, about sharp-eyed spinsters, Belgian detectives with their “little gray cells,” and dashing couples who hid keen senses behind their frivolous appearance? Author of 66 novels, 14 story collections, an autobiography, and playwright. The Mystery Writers of America’s first Grand Master, in 1955. Author of Mousetrap, the longest running play on record, and Witness for the Prosecution, a hit in London and on Broadway, and a movie directed by Billy Wilder starring Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power.

A few favorite quotes:

“It is a ridiculous thought but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize how much you love them.”

“Everyone has something to hide.”

“Every murderer is somebody’s friend.”

“That was the moment I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of the professional which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Written in her biography, shortly after her divorce in 1928, when she was working on The Blue Train, a book she didn’t like but felt she had to finish, to support herself and her young daughter and establish herself as a mystery writer.

To quote Rodgers & Hammerstein, in South Pacific, “There is nothing like a dame.”


quotes about writing, The Writing Life

The Saturday Writing Quote — on fear

“[T]he more we try to pretend that fear doesn’t and shouldn’t exist, the more we hurt our own chances to create whatever it is [we] dream about. … I don’t think fear is a shameful thing that we must rid ourselves of. It is a natural part of taking the risks that writers do. And the logical reaction to fear should indeed be bravery.”

Dan Blank, media consultant and teacher, on Writer Unboxed

“To live a creative life, we need to lose our fear of being wrong.”

– Joseph Chilton Pearce, American child educator and author, b. 1926


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Common terms: scot-free

When I came across this definition, from the website Word of the Week, I figured other readers would be as surprised as I was to know it has nothing to do with Scots, or Scotch, at all, despite the common assumption otherwise. The term does pop up occasionally in law talk, usually in the derisive sense, as in “The scumbag got off scot-free.”  That sense, at least, makes some etymologic sense.

“scot-free (adj.) Old English scotfreo “exempt from royal tax,” from scot “royal tax,” from Old Norse skot “contribution,” literally “a shooting, shot; thing shot, missile,” from Proto-Indo-European *skeud- “to shoot, chase, throw” (see shoot (v.); the Old Norse verb form, skjota, has a secondary sense of “transfer to another; pay”) + freo (see free (adj.)). First element related to Old English sceotan “to pay, contribute,” Dutch schot, German Schoß “tax, contribution.” French écot “share” (Old French escot) is from Germanic. (thanks to etymonline.com)”

So now you know what I know, plus what you know, which makes you smarter.

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The Saturday Writing Quote — getting concrete

“Writing should be concrete. It should evoke images and refer to something the reader can identify with particular experiences. A general concept like motion is interesting to a philosopher, but an ordinary reader wants to know what is moving, how fast, whether it is going toward him or away from him, and what effect the motion of this object will have on his income or his likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep.”

– Sumner Ives, A New Handbook for Writers 317 (1960).

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GarnerFrom Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, one of my favorite devices:

Zeugma (1).

Today: Witty Uses.

This figure of speech, literally a “yoking together,” involves a word’s being a part of two constructions. Sometimes it results in a grammatical error, but sometimes it’s simply a felicitous way of phrasing an idea. For example, sometimes a verb or preposition is applied to two other words in different senses, often figuratively in one sense and literally in the other, as in “she took her oath and her seat.” Often, the phrasing is both purposeful and humorous — e.g.:

o “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Groucho Marx, as quoted in Jim Shea, “Groucho Speaks,” Hartford Courant, 18 Aug. 1997, at E1. (“Flies” is used in two senses; so is “like.”)

o “I just blew my nose, a fuse, and three circuit breakers.” (A character on “The Jim Henson Hour,” 16 July 1989.)

o “We would venture out into the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas, where we found king mackerel and serenity.” Cactus Pryor, “He Called Me Puddin’,” Tex. Monthly, Feb. 1992, at 101, 134.

o Notice the title: “Cruel Flood: It Tore at Graves, and at Hearts,” Isabel Wilkerson, N.Y. Times, 26 Aug. 1993, at A1.

o “You held your breath and the door for me.” Alanis Morissette, “Head over Feet” [song] (1995).

o “He turned my life and this old car around.” Sara Evans, “Three Chords and the Truth” [song] (1997).”

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The Saturday Writing Quote — Updike on fiction

“Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that Mankind has invented yet.”

John Updike, American novelist and more (1932-2009), “The Importance of Fiction,” in Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism 86 (1991)

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Conflict in the Courtroom: Cops & Counselors — a guest post

Today we welcome to the blog Micki Browning, a veteran police officer, now retired and spinning tales of murder and mayhem in Colorado and the Florida Keys, sharing her perspective of the critical relationships between police officers, prosecutors, and defense counsel. Welcome, Micki! 

Conflict in the Courtroom: Cops & Counselors

Cops and counselors work together on a regular basis. How well they get along is often determined by which table the attorney sits at in the courtroom. Sometimes only inches separate the tables, but the span is often insurmountable. While I’m fairly certain there are at least a few amiable defense lawyers in this world, you’d be hard pressed to find an officer who will admit to meeting one. So why the disparity? After all, attorneys practicing criminal law all use the same playbook. To be fair, everyone is striving for justice, yet from a cop’s perspective, defense attorneys have a huge PR problem. They’re batting for the wrong team.

You see, police officers form strong relationships with prosecutors based on mutual respect. This camaraderie is forged through the shared goal of ridding the streets of ne’er-do-wells. Sometimes, the lead investigator will share the prosecutor’s table and act as an advisor throughout the trial. Heck, sometimes they’ll even discuss the case over drinks, or a pickup game of basketball, or at the Fourth of July picnic.

They become friends.

An Adversarial System

The United States judicial system is adversarial. Defense attorneys make their living defending the same person the cop went to a great deal of trouble to arrest. This creates a philosophical difference of opinion about the character of the accused and the merits of the case. Officers don’t arrest innocent people. Or so they’d like to think. Does it happen? Absolutely. Does it change how we think of the defense team? Not a whit. If a cop and a defense attorney drink together, someone’s about to sip arsenic, their pickup game will end in sudden death, and the only reason to show up to the Fourth of July picnic is because there was a noise complaint and the officer is on-duty.

While most officers believe that defense attorneys inhabit a tenth ring not envisioned by Dante, occasionally, even a prosecutor fans the flames. Law enforcement investigators present their cases to the prosecutor’s office when they feel it is a complete package— a conclusion not always shared by the prosecutor. This disparate perspective often arises from standards that are triggered at various phases of an investigation. For example, an officer only needs probable cause to believe a person committed a crime in order to make an arrest or pursue a warrant. But to secure a conviction, the prosecutor must present a case that demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the person did the dirty deed. Big difference—and one that can foster animosity between an officer who knows said knucklehead did wrong, and a prosecutor who may agree, but can’t prove it.

Evidence Is Not Truth

Despite what cops, attorneys and expert witnesses claim, evidence, on its own, is not truth. Evidence supports or undermines an argument. There is rarely a smoking gun and instead, evidence is pieced together until a reasonable conclusion can be drawn. Police officers testify to what they observed, the actions they took, and the items they gathered. I’ve presented evidence that has helped both the prosecution and the defense in the same trial. My job is to present the facts without embellishment or bias. It is the prosecutor’s job to build it up, and the defense attorney’s task to tear it down. One way the defense team attacks the validity of evidence is to attack the credibility of the officer presenting it. It’s hard to leave a courtroom feeling warm fuzzies for an attorney who just tried to convince the jury that you are an unprofessional nincompoop.

Crime and Punishment

Call it petty, but when the defense prevails, a cop’s first thought is that a miscarriage of justice took place, not that his or her own lack of preparation or investigation played a part. Truth is, it’s difficult to obtain a conviction. A key piece of evidence at trial may be been overlooked at the initial investigation, witnesses recant, juries are fickle and media coverage can sway perception.

What’s this mean for your writing? Everyone in a courtroom can feel righteous, but not everyone can be right. Opportunities for conflict abound. After all, it’s an adversarial system.

Micki Browning


MICKI BROWNING, an FBI National Academy graduate, worked in law enforcement for over two decades. She retired as a division commander leading the investigations, internal affairs, and training bureaus. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and active in the Guppies chapter.


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The Saturday Writing Quote — Merton on art

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

– Thomas Merton, American Trappist monk, writer, and activist (1915-1968)

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“You Cannot Stop a Stalker”

I feel compelled to share this story from the Missoula, Montana, Missoulian, about a most unlikely and improbable stalking that appears all too true and very scary. As my husband said, “honey, if you wrote this in a book, no one would believe it.”

Missoula police detective Stacy Lear says that another woman — whom she met in college in North Carolina more than 15 years ago, but barely knew — has been stalking her for the last twelve years. The other woman moved across the country when Lear did, cut her hair the same style, took up her hobbies — including competitive shooting, applied to the law enforcement academy after Lear did, faked an injury to see the same physical therapist, even bought the bed Lear and her fiance put on a wedding registry for herself and bought a custom-made couch nearly identical to the one Lear bought after Lear posted a photo of it on Pinterest. Coincidence, she says; we have similar interests.

What makes the case particularly unusual is that the two women have had almost no personal contact in years; the stalking appears to be mostly online. But there is that shared interest in competitive shooting that creates some concern ….

A jury found the other woman guilty of stalking in 2012, and earlier this year, she dropped her appeal and pled guilty after prosecutors threatened to charge her with tampering with evidence for deleting hundreds of blog posts after being interviewed about the alleged stalking. (The stalking is being investigated by sheriff’s deputies rather than the police department, because Lear is a police officer.) A permanent order of protection was also entered, including provisions barring her from owning a gun or holding a concealed carry permit.

The Montana Supreme Court held last week that victims who seek protective orders are not subject to discovery — mandatory responses to questions and requests for documents — as in other cases, because discovery would allow the alleged stalker the very personal access to the complainant that is the heart of the problem.

So the reader might not believe you if you wrote this story as fiction — but you can use it to understand both some of the methods stalkers use and the sheer terror the resulting loss of control creates.

(Here’s a guest post I wrote about a teenage genius stalked by an elderly man, and a post I wrote here on protective orders.)

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