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Judge Rules that Lawyer’s Facebook Posts Aren't Grounds for Gag Order

A Cobb County judge overseeing a double murder case with multiple defendants rejected prosecutors’ attempts to hold the defense attorneys responsible for a mistrial that was declared because a potential juror viewed a post on the defense lawyer’s Facebook page and later shared her findings with other jurors on the panel.

Last week, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds’ office filed an “emergency motion” that accused lawyers Kim Frye and Ashleigh Merchant of violating bar rules that keep public comments that might be prejudicial or false from entering into the court.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans and Assistant District Attorney Rachel Hines, filed the motion which requested that Judge A. Gregory Poole prohibit anyone involved in the case from making any “extrajudicial comment” on the case.

However, Judge Poole reviewed the evidence and posts that were being disputed and found neither to be objectionable. Judge Poole sided with the defense lawyers who argued that the juror in question ignored instructions to not research the case or discuss it with anyone, and was ultimately responsible for the mistrial. Furthermore, Judge Poole said that the request made by prosecutors violated the U.S. Constitution.

Attorneys Ashleigh Merchant and Kim Frye say the DA’s offices’ attempt to blame them for the juror’s misconduct is an effort to “chill” criminal defense lawyers by threatening their law licenses and livelihoods.

The two attorneys also noted that Cobb County’s district attorney’s office makes routine public statements about many of their cases that contain far more case details than any of Frye’s or Merchant’s Facebook posts. The lawyers point out that DA’s office doesn’t necessarily have “clean hands” when it comes to this issue.

A defense response that was filed by Attorney Ashleigh Merchant had the following to say: “It is evident the state’s allegations have been made in bad faith solely to impugn the character and personal and professional reputation of defense counsel and intimidate counsel into backing down in their advocacy.” Her response also asked the Cobb County Court to award attorney fees against the state for the time and cost of having to research and file the response.

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