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September 1, 2014

Morgan & Morgan Hires Belvin Perry, Former Judge in Casey Anthony Case: Any Ethical Implications?

by John Phillips

It is twitter official- Belvin Perry works for John Morgan and Morgan & Morgan, one of the largest personal injury firms in the world.  He already has a page on Twitter which members of the Morgan family are promoting.  In fact, the photo is so recent, it seems that he still wearing his judicial robe.  He was rumored to be in the process of getting a court television show, but that must not have worked out.

Matt Morgan

The Rules

What are Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct when it comes to retired judges reentering private practice?

RULE 4-7.13 DECEPTIVE AND INHERENTLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS

A lawyer may not engage in deceptive or inherently misleading advertising…

(10) a judicial, executive, or legislative branch title, unless accompanied by clear modifiers and placed subsequent to the person’s name in reference to a current, former or retired judicial, executive, or legislative branch official currently engaged in the practice of law. For example, a former judge may not state “Judge Doe (retired)” or “Judge Doe, former circuit judge.” She may state “Jane Doe, Florida Bar member, former circuit judge” or “Jane Doe, retired circuit judge….”

Further, the Rule’s Comment states:

This rule prohibits use of a judicial, executive, or legislative branch title, unless accompanied by clear modifiers and placed subsequent to the person’s name, when used to refer to a current or former officer of the judicial, executive, or legislative branch. Use of a title before a name is inherently misleading in that it implies that the current or former officer has improper influence. Thus, the titles Senator Doe, Representative Smith, Former Justice Doe, Retired Judge Smith, Governor (Retired) Doe, Former Senator Smith, and other similar titles used as titles in conjunction with the lawyer’s name are prohibited by this rule. This includes, but is not limited to, use of the title in advertisements and written communications, computer-accessed communications, letterhead, and business cards.

However, an accurate representation of one’s judicial, executive, or legislative experience is permitted if the reference is subsequent to the lawyer’s name and is clearly modified by terms such as “former” or “retired.” For example, a former judge may state “Jane Doe, Florida Bar member, former circuit judge” or “Jane Doe, retired circuit judge.”

Promotion Problem?

So, initial posts are already a little concerning.  Perry is no longer a judge.  And the Rule makes it clear that a retired Judge should not be referred to in promotion of that lawyer as, “the Honorable Chief Judge Belvin Perry,” but rather “Belvin Perry, retired circuit judge.”  And a private practice lawyer should not appear in promotional materials wearing a robe.  All lawyers are generally to appear like lawyers and not use an office for excessive promotion.  It’s minor, but Rules are Rules.

Casey Anthony

Belvin Perry and Casey AnthonyBelvin Perry was the trial judge in the Casey Anthony case.  The trial lasted six weeks, from May to July 2011. The prosecution sought the death penalty against Casey Anthony under a theory that alleged Casey Anthony was a party girl who wished to free herself from parental responsibilities and murdered her daughter by administering chloroform, applying duct tape and leaving her in a trunk before disposing the body.  The jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, but guilty of four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer.  With credit for time served, she was released on July 17, 2011. A Florida appeals court overturned two of the misdemeanor convictions on January 25, 2013.  When he read the jury’s verdict, Belvin later stated to the Today Show that he felt “surprise, shock, disbelief” and read it twice.  “I just wanted to be sure I was reading what I was reading,” Perry said.

Thereafter “Zanny the Nanny” sued Casey Anthony for defamation as she was implicated at one point in the kidnapping and death of Caylee Anthony.  In our 2012 article, “Casey Anthony Defamation Suit- Law Firm Stunt or Bona Fide Hunt?” we addressed this lawsuit against Casey Anthony filed by Morgan & Morgan.  As a former lawyer with the firm, I received a text message taking exception with my opinion saying the case was worth millions.  I don’t agree for the reasons stated in the article.

Read Casey Anthony’s deposition and decide for yourself (made publicly available to media and the public):

Casey bankruptcy ZENAIDA DEPO TRANSCRIPT filed Feb 25 2014

What has Casey Anthony’s Mother has said on the issue in affidavits:

82-1

82-2

Does Belvin Perry present a conflict of interest for the firm?  I don’t think so.  Certainly he has knowledge about Casey Anthony’s charges and acquittal that the public does not have. He may even arguably be a witness to the trial as some of the documents filed in Court were signed by him.  However, the trial he was involved with is over.  I don’t think it would be proper for him to prosecute that case, personally, but I do not think he imputes any conflict on the firm as a whole.

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