Ouch! A $1.5 million verdict awarded by Gwinnett County State Court jurors in March has been vacated over a lawyer’s social media posts.
As reported by Legaltech® News (Lawyer’s Social Media Posts Lead Court to Wipe Out $1.5M Verdict, written by Cedra Mayfield and available here), Judge Ronda S. Colvin has granted a new trial in the underlying personal injury matter after determining, among other factors, that social media posts by a plaintiff attorney potentially ”tainted” the jury in violation of Rule 3.6 of the State Bar of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.
It’s been more than three months since plaintiff counsel Mike Rafi and Alex Brown of the Rafi Law Firm in Atlanta secured the seven-figure outcome for a client injured in a vehicular collision caused by another motorist.
But a series of social media posts from Rafi indirectly regarding the dispute before, during jury deliberations and after the trial have resulted in his client’s $1.5 million verdict being nixed, and a new trial granted at the request of opposing counsel.
Defense counsel Pamela Newsom Lee and Brendan Thompson of Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers in Atlanta first sought a mistrial regarding Rafi’s prohibited mention of liability insurance twice during the secondary punitive phase of trial, but Colvin opted to give jurors a curative instruction, instead.
The jury subsequently found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding $1 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff and awarded an additional $512,000 for defense counsel’s purported “frivolous defense”. One month later, defense counsel motioned for a new trial on April 1, citing Rafi’s social media comments and arguing “the verdict was excessive and decidedly against the weight of the evidence.”
Rafi’s first video addressed the “three lies we actively have to tell the jury” in trials. Rafi did not mention the case specifically and did not name any of the parties, however, he did refer to specific facts and stated that he was “putting the final touches to my opening statement that I’m going to use on Monday in a car crash case I have going forward in Gwinnett County, Georgia.”
Rafi set forth the “three lies” for his audience: (1) that he was precluded from telling the jury that the defendant had auto insurance and that everything, including her high-priced witnesses, was being paid for by insurance; (2) that he was prevented from telling the jury that the defendant was arrested after the accident in which plaintiff alleges he was injured and (3) that Rafi could not tell the jury that defendant offered to settle this case which shows she believed she was at fault.
During the trial, before the jury reached its verdict, Rafi posted two additional videos discussing the case and criticizing the defense.
Defense counsel posited that in the alternative, a new trial should be granted regarding the frivolous defense portion of the secondary phase “because the testimony about insurance was impermissible and tainted the jury’s verdict.”
Colvin wrote that “as a thirteenth juror,” she took her role “very seriously.” She said she’d been “hesitant to overturn the jury’s verdict,” noting that “a violation of Rule 3.6 alone is not a proper vehicle to obtain a new trial.”
However, in leveraged her judicial discretion under O.C.G.A. 5-5-25 to grant defense counsel’s motion for a new trial “in its entirety”, Colvin concluded that as part of the court’s duty “to protect the integrity of the judicial process,” she held “broad discretion in ensuring that no verdict is contrary to the principles of justice and equity.”
“The court is deeply concerned with the impact of Rafi’s social media videos. These videos contained sufficient specificity to determine that he was beginning a jury trial in Gwinnett County on the following Monday,” Colvin wrote. “His first video specifically also set out that the defendant had insurance, that the defendant’s insurance carrier paid for his high-priced witnesses, that ‘she’ [the defendant] had been arrested at the scene of the accident and that the defendant had offered to settle this case, thus recognizing that she was at fault… there are a myriad of reasons why a party offers to settle that do not mean the party is admitting fault.”
Plaintiff attorney Rafi weighed in on the case development, as follows:
“I have created hundreds of hours of law-related content and publish it for free each day to my Instagram, TikTok and YouTube [accounts]. I choose to make videos about what lawyers do and how the law works in real life (or doesn’t work), so people will better understand the legal world. I am proud that my videos are honest and candid and that people learn and are entertained, too. As content creation becomes easier, especially through social media, I think it is important that we protect lawyers’ rights to share information with the public, so long as it does not jeopardize a fair trial,” Rafi relayed via email. “As it relates to this case, none of the jurors saw my videos, so whatever you think of my content, it could not have affected their verdict. I am confident the next verdict will be similar to the first, because the case is still the same: my client is permanently injured because the defendant acted unreasonably and she refuses to take responsibility.”
So, what do you think? Do you think a lawyer’s social media posts should wipe out a verdict, especially if the jurors didn’t see them? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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