A Cautionary Tale for Attorneys: Don’t take photos in court!

This morning an attorney showed me the 2016 Chicago Traffic Court “key” calendar, which not only had all the “key dates” for next year, but also, by implication, the two weeks when court will be closed for judicial seminars (which is a good thing for attorneys to know).  (By the way, those seminars will be held the weeks of February 1rst and April 4th).

The attorney asked if I wanted to take a picture of the schedule.  I declined to take a picture, but instead typed in the information into my phone.  Why, you may ask, did I write down the information when taking a picture would be so much easier?  Because taking a picture in court violates the Court Rules.

Obviously, this information is easy enough to forget, as this attorney, who has been practicing for over 20 years, did, and, as it turns out, so did a partner at  Loop law firm firm, who got into trouble for taking pictures of exhibits in a “high-profile” Federal “spoofing” trial and tweeting them, along with his comments, to his twitter followers.

From the Chicago Tribune (story by Jason Meisner):

A partner at a large Chicago law firm is in hot water after he was caught taking photos on his cellphone and tweeting them from the courtroom during the recent high-profile “spoofing” trial of a New Jersey-based trader.

Vincent “Trace” Schmeltz, a co-chair of the financial and regulatory litigation group at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, has been ordered to appear before U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo on Dec. 8. He faces possible sanctions for nine photos he tweeted during the trial of Michael Coscia, according to a court filing late Friday.

Schmeltz was in the spectator’s gallery of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s 19th floor federal courtroom in Chicago on Oct. 28 when an FBI agent spotted him holding his phone at chest-level and snapping photos, records show. Court officials later saw nine tweets on Schmeltz’s Twitter page, @TraceSchmeltz, each with a caption describing evidence that was being displayed in the trial.

“Prosecution trying to impeach … with this email,” Schmeltz wrote in one post, which included a photo of the email as it was being displayed in court on a flat-screen monitor, the filing stated.

Photographing or recording of any kind is forbidden at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse except in the lobby.

Leinenweber had specifically barred all cellphone use in his courtroom for Coscia’s trial, which was the first of its kind in the nation and was closely watched by players in the controversial world of high-frequency trading.

On the day Schmeltz sent his tweets, there was a 4-foot sign posted outside the courtroom that read “PHOTOGRAPHING, RECORDING or BROADCASTING IS PROHIBITED,” according to the filing.

Reached at his office Monday, a contrite Schmeltz said he was caught up in the moment, calling the trial a “unique civics lesson” that he wanted his 244 Twitter followers to know about. He said that even though he is a seasoned attorney, it was one of the first times he’d ever been in court for a case that wasn’t his and he simply failed to notice the ban on cellphone use.

“I’m not used to being a spectator,” Schmeltz said. “It’s a lesson learned on my part.”

Schmeltz, who immediately deleted the offending tweets when he was notified of the violation, said he was careful to photograph only the evidence on the screen, not witnesses or jurors.

He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 2000 and has no disciplinary record as an attorney, according to online records with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

A federal jury deliberated for less than an hour last week before convicting Coscia of all 12 counts of fraud and spoofing.

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