My Ethics Complaint to The Florida State Bar Against Representative Matt Gaetz
Today I mailed a formal ethics complaint to the disciplinary entity of the Florida State Bar Association regarding Representative Matt Gaetz’s effort to intimidate Michael Cohen. The substance of the complaint read as follows.
The Florida attorney who is the subject of this complaint is a member of the House of Representatives in the United States Congress. Gaetz operates a Twitter account with the handle @mattgaetz. On February 26, 2019 Gaetz directed a tweet to Michael Cohen that read as follows:
“Hey @MichaelCohen212, — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…”
The tweet (since deleted) was on the eve of Michael Cohen’s public testimony before the House Oversight Committee. It constituted criminal witness tampering as described in 18 U.S.C. 1512(b). Gaetz subsequently made disingenuous public comments to the effect the tweet was “testing” the witness. Threatening to embarrass the witness to his wife, and questioning whether she will be faithful while the witness is in prison, is not “testing” the credibility of the witness. It is attempting to intimidate the witness and influence his testimony.
Gaetz’s action violate Rules 4–8.4(b) and (d) relating to Florida Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.
“A lawyer shall not . . . (b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
Commentary associated with this rule suggests that it is particularly applicable to illegal acts that constitute “serious interference with the administration of justice.” Attempting to intimidate a witness testifying before Congress, about alleged criminal matters, certainly qualifies.
“A lawyer shall not . . . (d) engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses . . .”
Commentary associated with this rule states that it “proscribes conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice” and that it extends to anything “that is not relevant to the proof of any legal or factual issues in dispute.” Needling a witness about his marital and family relations falls squarely within the prohibition of this rule.
In addition, commentary associated with Rule 4–8.4(e) notes that:
“Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of attorney.”
Representative Matt Gaetz’s efforts to intimidate a witness testifying to the United States Congress violates the Florida State Bar’s Rules of Professional Responsibility and dishonors the Bar. Disciplinary action should be promptly taken.
EDIT & UPDATE
I received a response back from the the Florida Bar regarding the complaint I submitted against Representative Matt Gaetz. The obvious form letter response reads as follows:
“Thank you for your submission. The Florida Bar is aware of the issue you reported and is taking appropriate measures. A file has been opened. However, the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar prohibit further comment at this time.”
EDIT & UPDATE: ACTION TAKEN BY FLORIDA BAR
The Florida Bar has released a letter, that while avoiding formal discipline, makes clear Gaetz’s action was not in keeping with the high standards of the profession and does not reflect favorably on him as a member of the Florida Bar. The letter further describes Gaetz’s conduct as “unprofessional, reckless, insensitive and demonstrated poor judgement.”