Federal Court Denies State’s Motion To Seal Following Habeas Counsel’s “Ill-Advised” Facebook Post Citing Kris Kristofferson

Well, once again, we advise our lawyers friends to be careful what they post on Facebook. A new federal court case presents both social media and Blue Book citation issues.

On that note, we must direct your attention to Havard v. Epps, No. 5:08CV275KS (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2013).  It’s a habeas corpus proceeding, not something we write about often here at Abnormal Use.  But because of its connection to social media, we feel compelled to offer an observation or two on this very new – and very brief – district court opinion. The Respondents in that case – various governmental officials including the  Mississippi Department of Corrections – filed a motion for clarification and motion to seal. Just so we can put it in proper context, here’s how the court described the procedural issue at hand:

This matter came before the Court on Respondents’ Motion for Clarification and their Motion to Seal. The Court earlier allowed Petitioner to amend his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to reflect state court proceedings that have occurred since the original Petition was filed. The basis for Respondents’ Motion for Clarification is their contention that the Memorandum that Petitioner submitted in support of his Amended Petition may contain new claims that may go outside the scope of the amendment allowed by the Court. According to Respondents, “the State cannot determine whether (and where) Petitioner made substantive changes to arguments which Petitioner did not move to amend. Therefore, the State cannot identify which issues need responsive pleadings.” Respondents did file an Answer to the Amended Petition without objection; it appears that the issue lies with the Memorandum.

(Docket entry citations omitted).

The court denied the motion for clarification, but it is the motion to seal which interests us.  Apparently, the Respondents sought to ” prohibit any non-party from accessing documents filed in this case.”  That does not sound unusual, right? That, after all, is the purpose of a motion to seal.  Well, here’s the social media money paragraph:

Here, Respondents’ concern was apparently triggered by a Facebook post of one of Petitioner’s counsel about the Motion for Clarification discussed above. In particular, counsel wrote, “After responding to an asinine motion filed by the State, which not only wants to kill my client but doesn’t want to be bothered by actually responding to his claims of innocence, I am heartened by the following words penned by Kris Kristofferson.” However ill-advised this post may have been, in terms of the standards of professionalism by which lawyers are encouraged to govern themselves, this statement does not give rise, in the Court’s opinion, to a need to seal this record, for three reasons. First, there is no indication that the record of these proceedings in state court is unavailable to the public; second, the state court record was conventionally filed in this Court and is not available for electronic access; and, finally, information about this case is so widely available through Internet sources that closure of this record will not prevent dissemination of the details of the charges or the identification of the infant victim in this case. For these reasons, the Motion to Seal will also be denied.

(Emphasis added).

The State attached a grainy, black and white copy of the Facebook profile and wall of the attorney who made the post as an exhibit to the motion.  That attorney, in conjunction with the post, also embedded this YouTube post featuring the song. The motion to seal does not recite how the attorneys for The State came across the Facebook post in question, nor does it disclose the user who logged in to Facebook to print the profile.

Posting about one’s cases on Facebook is always a perilous enterprise, even if one’s Facebook profile is set to private, as any friend (or sometimes, friend of a friend) can access and capture the photograph.  Having one’s Facebook profile attached to a federal motion is not something one would expect, but as can be seen, it is a now possible consequence. Be careful out there, folks.

Our biggest disappointment, of course, is that the federal court did not see fit to quote – or cite to – the Kris Kristofferson.  If we were forced to guess, we would have assumed that the lawyer was quoting “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kristofferson (and Fred Foster) and made famous by Janis Joplin. “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” right?

But we would have guessed wrong.  We located the motion to seal in question, which was filed on August 26, 2013 (just four days before the order), and here is the Facebook post in full:

After responding to an asinine motion filed by the State, which not only wants to  kill my client but doesn’t want to be bothered by actually responding to his claims of innocence, I am heartened by the following words penned by Kris  Kristofferson. There are some similarities between prophetic songwriters and lawyers:

And you still can hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen, To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear. And I guess I’ll die explaining how the things that they complain about, Are things they could be changin’, hopin’ someone’s gonna care. I was born a lonely singer, and I’m bound to die the same, But I’ve got to feed the hunger in my soul. And if I never have a nickle [sic] I won’t ever die ashamed. ‘Cause I don’t believe that no one wants to know.

How about that? That, by the way, is from Kristofferson’s “To Beat The Devil,” from his debut album Kristofferson, released way, way back in 1970.

On a final note, we do think the federal court in question missed an opportunity to cite to Kristofferson’s album using proper Blue Book formatting.  According to Blue Book Rule 18.6.1, “[i]f a particular song or musical work is referred to, cite it by analogy to shorter works in a collection according to rule 15.5.1”  That would be as follows: Kris Kristoferrson, To Beat The Devil, on KRISTOFFERSON (Monument Records 1970).

Comments are closed.