A Nashville lawyer has had his state license suspended for a year after he told a woman on Facebook how to murder her allegedly ‘abusive’ ex-husband and get away with it.
In a 2017 Facebook post, Winston B Sitton advised an unnamed ‘friend’ from Memphis, who he called a ‘cheerleader’ and ‘a battered, disabled mother’, how to protect herself from her former partner who he claimed had ‘savagely’ beaten her in a restaurant in front of their son.
In the messages, Sitton suggested that she ‘lure’ her former partner to her house and shoot him dead, rather than keep a gun in her car.
The lawyer claimed that if the killing took place in her house the mother of one would be more likely to successfully claim self-defense in the use of ‘deadly force’.
Last week Justice Holly Kirby, of the Tennessee Supreme Court, suspended Sutton’s license for one year, with three more on probation, saying he had cast the profession in a ‘corrupt’ light.
She called it a ‘cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media’ and urged them to consider posts on social media ‘live ammunition’.
Sitton claimed it was a joke and part of his ‘dark humor’.
Winston B Sitton, of Sitton & Associates in Nashville, Tennessee, has had his license suspended by the state’s Supreme Court after advising a woman on Facebook in 2017 how to kill her husband and get away with it
Justice Holly Kirby, pictured, suspended his license for one year, with three more on probation, and called the case a ‘cautionary tale’ for lawyers on social media
Justice Kirby said that Sitton had cast the profession as ‘corrupt’ and there to provide ‘false defenses’
The Tennessee Supreme Court in Nashville revoked an earlier decision by the Board of Professional Responsibility, who suspended Sitton’s license for 60-days, saying the punishment was not severe enough
Sitton’s law firm Sitton & Associates, is based in Nashville, Tennessee, pictured, but he claims to also be licensed in New York and Maryland
Sitton’s comments came to light in the last few months after screenshots of the conversation were sent to the Board of Professional Responsibility, which referred the matter to the state’s Supreme Court, as reported by The Tennesseean.
In the posts the unidentified woman asked for advice on whether she should keep a gun in her car, claiming that her ex husband, and father of their son, was abusive.
Sitton, founder of Sitton & Associates and graduate of The University of Virginia School of Law, wrote in reply: ‘Even with the new stand your ground law, the castle doctrine is a far safer basis for use of deadly force,’ according to documents filed in court.
Sitton, who claims in online profiles to be a member of the Tennessee, New York and Maryland bar, added: ‘As a lawyer, I advise you to keep mum about this if you are remotely serious. Your defense is that you are afraid for your life _ revenge or premeditation of any sort will be used against you at trial.’
The woman’s post was subsequently deleted but not before her ex saw the comments and took screenshots that he handed over to Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who alerted the Board of Professional Responsibility.
The comments came to light after the woman’s ex partner took screenshots of the conversation and passed them to Amy Weirich, Shelby County District Attorney General, who passed them to the Board of Professional Responsibility
Sitton posted on his law firm’s Facebook page a response to the ruling claiming he contested the finding
Sitton’s law firm’s Facebook page appears to feature a statue of Confederate civil war leader and later President Andrew Jackson, pictured in Jackson Square in New Orleans. The statue is one of many in the US that activists are trying to get removed from public spaces because of their association with slavery and racism
Sitton told the board that he is unapologetic and that the post was part of his ‘dark humor’.
The board recommended that Sitton’s license be suspended for 60 days, but the matter was reviewed by the Tennessee Supreme Court who found that the action was too lenient.
Justice Holly Kirby wrote in her majority opinion on January 22: ‘Our rules do not permit lawyers to offer advice on how to commit crime with impunity. Lawyers who choose to post on social media must realize they are handling live ammunition; doing so requires care and judgment.’
She added:’ The social media posts fostered a public perception that a lawyer’s role is to manufacture false defenses. They projected a public image of corruption of the judicial process. This case is a cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media.’
Sitton’s license was suspended his license for four years, with one year on active suspension and the rest on probation.
After the initial judgement by the Board of Professional Responsibility Sitton wrote on Facebook on January 1 that he had instructed the woman to use ‘mace or a taser…to protect herself from a stalker…her son’s father against whom a protective order had been issued after he savagely beat her in a public restaurant.’
He added that he ‘instructed her to reserve lethal force as a last resort in her home’.
Sitton continued: ‘If the Board’s attempt was to shame me, they failed. I proudly stand for judicial reform, the first amendment right to political speech, and for our second amendment right to self defense. In nearly thirty years of practicing law, I have never before been subject to any public censure for misconduct in any of the juristictions [sic] in which I have been licensed to practice law.’
Sitton’s license was previously suspended in August 2018 for not paying professional taxes, according to court documents.
He hasn’t yet sought reinstatement, but must first undergo training on ethical social media practices.
Winston B Sitton’s full statement
He wrote on Facebook on January 23, after the ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court:
‘Set forth below is a link to a Tennessee Supreme Court opinion in which the court found a certain comment I posted on Facebook in 2017, though deemed neither criminal nor in violation of any extant Rule of Professional Conduct (not including the vague ‘conduct unbecoming’ language found in section 8.4), was ‘prejudicial to the administration of justice’ worthy of a one year suspension of my law license, followed by three years of probation.
I adamantly contest the finding that my gratuitious [sic] commentary offered to a battered woman, who was being threatened and abused and harassed by her son’s father, was legal advice as to how to commit a crime or in any way violated my legal duties as either a citizen or as a lawyer.
Any such a finding is both irrational, as the offensive communication was published in plain view and with no attempt at concealment, as well as is inconsistent with the indisputed [sic] facts presented as evidence, as the comment was given in the context of the very same paragraph in which I strongly advised the lady NOT to carry a gun in her car for fear that she might harm herself or others, but instead encouraged her to resort to less lethal forms of protection such as mace or a taser.
Moreover, no malice or improper intent was found nor was any motive as to why a seasoned attorney with nearly 30 years experience would have risked his caeer [sic] in such a way for someone he had never met, never spoken with, or never emailed or messaged outside of public banter on Facebook’s open pages.’