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Lawyer Posts Video of Client's Drug Deal on YouTube

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Two YouTube fails in one morning? This is further proof of what we advised earlier: tread on social media with caution.

This morning, we saw that a purported law student had posted a self-recorded video of her disgusting racist rant at Dunkin' Donuts employees over a receipt dispute. Now, we have a lawyer who compromised a case, violated multiple rules of professionalism, and revealed a confidential informant, all by posting a video obtained in discovery on YouTube, and per the disciplinary report, on "an internet site known as Facebook." Whatever that is.

What was missing here -- social media savvy, a knowledge of basic ethical obligations, or simple common sense?

Per the report, which recommends a five-month suspension, Mt. Sterling, Illinois, attorney Jesse Gilsdorf obtained a video during discovery of his client engaging in a drug deal. He then paid someone $233 to post it on YouTube.

Why? He thought it showed law enforcement officials planting drugs. The video was labeled "Cops and Task Force Planting Drugs." Of course, once he viewed it on a larger screen with the prosecutor, he realized that the video clearly showed his client engaging in a drug transaction with a confidential informant. He then advised his client to plead guilty.

He argued that his client approved the strategy and that he was trying to counteract negative pretrial publicity. Even so, let's recap every reason why this was a bad idea:

  • The video identified a confidential informant;
  • The video was proof of his client's guilt, displayed online;
  • The video could taint the jury pool;
  • The video falsely accused the officers of illegal and immoral activity;
  • He allegedly didn't obtain the informed consent of his client before posting;
  • He didn't examine the video sufficiently before posting.

Of course, those are the plain-English reasons not to post the video. The ethics violations, per the synopsis, include:

"[H]e revealed information relating to the representation of a client without the informed consent of his client and without the disclosure being impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation; failed to reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished); made extrajudicial statements that the lawyer reasonably knows will be disseminated by means of public communication and would pose a serious and imminent threat to the fairness of an adjudicative proceeding; engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and engaged in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute."

YouTube or local news, attempts at manipulating pre-trial media coverage have to be handled with caution. Obviously, one should review videos and evidence of the alleged crime before leaking them to the public as well. Better yet, why not just handle the case in court, where it belongs? If this were a trial with national coverage, like the Casey Anthony trial, some media manipulation might have been necessary.

But a local drug case? No one, except the parties involved, and the 2,000 YouTube hits, really cares.

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