Chastised Wisconsin Attorney

Wisconsin Attorney Chastised by Judge For Taking Facebook Selfie with Client After Winning Murder Acquittal

This news article out of Milwaukee details the sometimes sad state of the legal profession.

Perhaps understandably, Waukesha criminal defense attorney Anthony Cotton said he was excited to hear a Milwaukee jury declare his client not guilty of first degree intentional homicide after a re-trial on Sept. 18.

The acquittal meant Brandon Burnside would be released from prison, where he had been serving a life sentence until winning the right to a new trial on appeal last year.

In the emotion of the moment,  soon after court had adjourned, but while there were still staff and others in Circuit Judge Thomas McAdams’ courtroom, Cotton pulled out his phone and took a selfie with his client.

What happened next illustrates the generational disconnect about social media’s role in professional life.

Brandon Burnside, left, with his attorney, Anthony Cotton, after being acquitted of murder charge.Shortly after taking the selfie, Cotton posted it on his Facebook page, worsening what some already considered a major breach of courtroom decorum, if not lawyer ethics and possibly even an act of contempt.

News of Cotton’s move quickly made it around the courthouse hierarchy and later the same day, he said, he got a call from McAdams, who had presided at the trial.

In an interview last week, McAdams said he had been talking to jurors in chambers after the trial was read, and didn’t see Cotton take the photo, but heard about it from his staff when he returned a few minutes later. By then, Cotton was gone.

McAdams said he ordered Cotton back to court to look him in the eye and hear his side of the story.

“I was concerned if the victim’s family had seen (the taking of the photo), or if jurors had been included in the frame,” McAdams said.

The judge and Cotton said he apologized, took the Facebook post down, and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

But by then, it had already been copied and shared all around the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Theoretically, McAdams could have ordered Cotton into custody for direct contempt of court, that is, showing disrespect for the court, if he had personally witnessed the photo being taken.

So, in the social media age, was the photo, and its posting worthy of contempt? Professional sanction? Or no big deal? McAdams said he has heard all three reactions, but as far as he’s concerned it’s over.

“To me it’s undignified,” said McAdams, 53. “But I know that a younger generation sees that social media stuff differently.”

It’s unclear if it would be interpreted as a violation of Wisconsin lawyers’ rules of professional responsibility, given it occured after the trial.

The closest applicable rule appears to be Supreme Court Rule 20:3.5, Impartiality and decorum of the tribunal. Subsection (d)  says a  lawyer shall not, ” engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.”

Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White said taking a photo, even after a trial is over, would more likely fall under directions of Supreme Court Rule 62, “Standards of Courtesy and Decorum for the Courts of Wisconsin.

That rule says that any officials in a court, not just lawyers, should  “Conduct themselves in a manner which demonstrates sensitivity to the necessity of preserving decorum and the integrity of the judicial process” and “Abstain from any conduct that may be characterized as uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile or  obstructive.”

She said those standards govern conduct in the room, not just in an active case.

“Someone can see something in the courtroom and get a wrong impression of what could happen,” White said.

Cotton said the next time he feels so good about a courtroom win, he’ll just wait until he’s outside to take any celebratory photos.

Please read the original article at

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