On May 11, 2017, the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association issued its third iteration of Social Media Ethics Guidelines. As the authors of the Guidelines aptly recognize: “As use of social media by lawyers and clients continues to grow and as social media networks proliferate and become more sophisticated, so too do the ethics issues facing lawyers.” This recent update adds principles regarding professional competence and attorney use of social media, and addresses ethical considerations regarding maintaining client confidences, handling potential conflicts of interests related to social media, following clients’ social media, and communicating with judges via social media. Issued in 2014 and updated in June 2015, the Guidelines aim to provide “guiding principles” as opposed to “best practices” for the modern lawyer’s evolving use of social media. The authors acknowledge the guidelines’ inherent inability to define universal principles in the face of varying ethics codes, which “may differ due to different social mores, the priorities of different demographic populations, and the historical approaches to ethics rules and opinions in different localities.” The Guidelines are based upon the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and New York bar associates’ interpretation of those rules. The Guidelines do, however, cite ethics opinions where there is a difference of opinion or...
ABA Says that Attorneys May Investigate Jurors’ Social Media Presence, Even if Automatic Notifications are Generated
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility recently weighed in on the ethical parameters of attorneys’ investigation of jurors’ social media presence. In ABA Formal Opinion 466, the Committee concluded that an attorney may review a juror’s social media presence; an attorney may undertake that review even if the social media website issues a notice to the juror that the attorney viewed his social media profile; and an attorney may not request private access to a juror’s social media profile.
A recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision in Fitzgerald v. Duff provides a potent reminder that if you are involved in litigation, anything you do or say online might be used against you in court. The Fitzgerald proceedings concerned a father’s attempt to modify a previously-entered child support order by submitting his 2011 income tax return, which reported a taxable income of $21,000 from a cash tattoo business. In opposition, the child’s legal custodian filed a certification opposing modification of the support order, suggesting that much of the defendant’s income was unreported, and that a much higher child support obligation was warranted. To support that position, the custodian submitted copies of defendant’s web site, Facebook photographs, and various social media comments evincing his success. The website identified multiple locations at which the tattoo parlor operated and plans for its imminent expansion, featured three staff tattoo artists, and advertised that defendant provided tattoo services for professional football players. The Facebook photographs depicted defendant throwing $100 bills, his speed boat, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro (plaintiff also maintained defendant owned a Lincoln Navigator), his elaborate tropical wedding, and accompanying diamond engagement and wedding bands. Finally, comments from the father’s Myspace page included statements that in four hours he earns $250, his schedule had “been packed so [he could] pay for this wedding,” and that he purchased television advertising spots.
The Fifth Annual Gibbons E-Discovery Conference Kicks Off with an Interactive and Thought-Provoking Overview of the Past Year’s Pivotal E-Discovery Case Decisions
The Fifth Annual Gibbons E-Discovery Conference kicked off with an interactive overview of the important judicial decisions from 2011 that shaped and redefined the e-discovery landscape. Before an audience of general and in-house counsel, representing companies throughout the tri-state area, the esteemed panel of speakers, including Michael R. Arkfeld, Paul E. Asfendis, and Mara E. Zazzali-Hogan, moderated by Scott J. Etish, tackled the issues faced by the courts over the past year. Through a series of hypotheticals, the panelists and attendees analyzed and discussed how to handle the tough e-discovery issues that arose and how the courts’ decisions again reshaped the e-discovery landscape as we know it. Litigation hold protocols and spoliation concerns, the use of social media in discovery with its attendant ethical concerns, and the use of social media and the Internet in the courtroom were the hot topics of the day. This interactive overview of the past year’s hot button, e-discovery issues was an instant success and clearly set the tone for the remainder of the conference.
FINRA Issues Regulatory Notice 11-39: Social Media Websites and the Use of Personal Devices for Business Communications
In August 2011, FINRA, the self-regulatory agency of the securities industry, issued Regulatory Notice 11-39, offering additional guidance concerning the use of social media and supplementing its first notice on the subject–Regulatory Notice 10-06, issued in January 2010. Notice 11-39 focuses on issues relating to FINRA members’ use of social media, including record-keeping, supervision and responding to third-party posts and links. The Notice includes 14 “Q&As,” which provide instruction on the practical application of a firm’s and “associated person’s” (i.e., FINRA members) obligations under applicable laws and regulations when it comes to social media. With respect to record-keeping requirements, social media websites raise new complications because member firms do not themselves typically sponsor or host the content on those websites. The Notice, however, clarifies that record retention requirements continue to apply to content on social media sites and that the controlling question is whether the communications on those sites relate to the firm’s “business as such.” Any business communication made via Facebook, for example, must be “retained, retrievable and supervised.”
A defendant in an employment action discovers through Facebook that a plaintiff has lied about her discrimination claim. The information essentially undermines plaintiff’s entire claim. However, such information does not make it to a factfinder at trial unless the evidentiary foundations can be established — proof of authorship and timeliness. These evidentiary foundations are not easy to establish in the ever-changing medium of social media. The anonymity offered by some social networking sites may be what makes them attractive to users, but it also makes establishing authorship of content difficult. Similarly, social media sites are constantly changing, as users can add, remove or edit content at any time. As a result, recreating a post or a profile from a particular moment in time can be difficult, if not impossible, depending on how a partciluar site functions.
Obtaining data and images from social networking sites (“SNS”) such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace has become commonplace in civil and criminal litigation. However, issues surrounding proper authentication of this information at trial remain unresolved. The New York Supreme Court’s recent opinion in People v. Karon Lenihan, 1714/2008 (Sup. Ct., Queens Cty. Nov. 12, 2010)highlights judicial skepticism surrounding the use of SNS evidence.
New York’s Appellate Division Finds Facebook Accounts Off-Limits When Discovery Demands are Non-Specific
In McCann v. Harleysville Insurance Co. of New York, 910 N.Y.S.2d 614, 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8396 (N.Y. App. Div. Nov. 12, 2010), New York’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed the trial court’s refusal to compel Plaintiff to produce information regarding or provide access to her Facebook account. Plaintiff was injured in an auto accident with one of Harleysville’s insured. She filed a personal injury suit against the insured, which resulted in a settlement. Plaintiff thereafter commenced a new action directly against Harleysville for certain uninsured/underinsured auto insurance benefits.
No Privilege for Information Posted on Social Network Sites — Court Orders Production of Plaintiff’s Social Network Account Usernames and Passwords
A Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas has ordered the production of a plaintiff’s social network account passwords and usernames in the recent decision of McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., Case No. 113-2010 CD (Pa. Ct. of Common Pleas, Jefferson Cty. September 9, 2010) In this case, McMillen sued Hummingbird Speedway Inc. and others for injuries he allegedly suffered when he was rear-ended during a cool down lap after a stock car race in 2007 on Hummingbird’s premises. During discovery, Hummingbird requested that plaintiff disclose information regarding social network websites that plaintiff belonged to and asked that plaintiff turn over his log-in and passwords for his accounts. McMillen responded that he had accounts on Facebook and MySpace but objected to any request for his log-in and passwords on the basis that the requested information was privileged and would lead to the production of private communications. Ultimately, Hummingbird filed a motion to compel the production of the requested information as they wanted “to determine whether or not plaintiff has made any other comments which impeach and contradict his disability and damages claims.” The court found that such information is not protected by any evidentiary privileges under Pennsylvania law and thus, is discoverable.
Accessing an Adversary’s Public Social Networking Information — N.Y. Professional Ethics Opinion 843
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace are among the top social media websites that have culturally transformed electronic communications and social interactions. Inevitably, these platforms have also affected litigation practice and present myriad ethical dilemmas. One such dilemma is whether an attorney can access an adverse party’s social networking website to obtain information about the party, including impeachment material.