Although lawsuits can spur public interest based simply on the parties or issues involved, attorneys can – and in some instances, do – play a role in stoking public curiosity. The permissible bounds of attorney-instigated publicity were addressed in a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Adams v. Laboratory Corporation of America, which deals with the alleged negligent misinterpretation of several Pap smear tests by a diagnostic testing facility. The plaintiff asserts that the defendant’s negligence in interpreting her Pap Smear tests and reporting the results to her physician resulted in injurious delay in her cervical cancer diagnosis.
While the negligence claims at issue in Adams are interesting, the court decision, as noted above, deals not with these claims but with the conduct of the plaintiff’s attorney. On November 25, 2014, counsel for the defendant brought a motion for a court order that would prevent the parties, their attorneys, and agents of both from “discussing this case with the media or making statements to the media or on the internet, including social media, other than matters of public record.” The defendant argues this order is necessary because these communications could prejudice one or more of the parties and interfere with the court’s ability to conduct a fair trial. The defendant sought this order because the plaintiff’s attorneys, who are members of the Florida Bar, had released statements and other prejudicial information with respect to a similar lawsuit involving the same defendant before a federal court in Florida.
In Florida, the plaintiff’s attorneys and the plaintiff in the Florida case, the widower of a woman whose Pap smear results were also allegedly misread, had made prejudicial statements during several local news broadcasts and in interviews with print news media. These prejudicial statements, including references to evidence deemed inadmissible by the Florida federal court, were made shortly before jury selection in the Florida case. In response, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that they are subject to Rule 3.6 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits conduct more broadly than the analogous Florida Rules of Professional Conduct, and asserted that the defendant’s motion was made simply to prejudice the Court against them. In response, the defendants argued that, although the plaintiff’s attorneys are subject to the Georgia Professional Conduct Rules, they are not subject to discipline procedures, and thus the order was still required.