BY BRYAN MCKENZIE
email@example.com | 978-7271
Charlottesville lawyer Matthew B. Murray has agreed to a five-year suspension of his law license for attempting to thwart opposing attorneys' access to a client’s Facebook account during a 2011 multi-million-dollar wrongful death lawsuit.
Murray recently paid a $542,000 sanction imposed by a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge. Murray’s actions included advising his client to delete photos that could be used in court proceedings. He faced a disciplinary hearing after a Virginia State Bar investigation into his actions found misconduct.
“There is an agreed disposition in this matter,” said Bonnie Waldeck, Virginia State Bar assistant clerk. “Mr. Murray received a five-year suspension, effective July 17, 2013.”
On June 13, a bar subcommittee certified misconduct charges to the state bar disciplinary committee. The charges were based on violations of bar regulations on candor, fairness to opposing parties and counsel and engaging in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” according to the certification.
Murray has resigned from the Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen law firm.
The agreement between Murray and the bar allows him to return to practice in five years.
Murray was out of town Tuesday with a volunteer organization performing maintenance on the Appalachian Trail, relatives said. He could not be reached for comment.
Murray’s actions took place during the December 2010 trial of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by him and his client, Isaiah Lester, against Allied Concrete. That case resulted in a $10-million award to Lester and the parents of Lester’s wife, Jessica.
Lester was driving west on the Thomas Jefferson Parkway to take his wife to work June 21, 2007, when an eastbound truck filled with liquid concrete crossed the centerline on the two-lane road and tipped over onto the Lesters’ vehicle. Lester’s wife’s was killed.
The driver pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
As the lawsuit progressed, Lester sent a message to an attorney for Allied Concrete via Facebook, allowing the attorney to view Lester’s page. Allied Concrete attorneys then issued a discovery request to Murray, seeking printed copies of screen shots of the Facebook pages, including pictures, his profile, his message board, status updates and messages.
A photo Lester posted to Facebook showed him holding a beer and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message “I love hot moms,” with love indicated by a heart.
A Virginia Supreme Court narrative stated that Murray instructed a paralegal in his office to tell Lester to clean up his Facebook page to avoid the photos and other information being introduced in the trial. That violated court procedures. Lester later deleted 16 photos, but all eventually were given to Allied attorneys before the trial, and Lester’s actions were made known to the jury.
The emails between Murray, the paralegal and Lester were not made available to the court until after the trial. Murray blamed that on an error by the paralegal. He later told the court that he had concealed the email out of fear the trial court would grant a continuance, according to the Supreme Court’s review.
A jury awarded Lester more than $2.3 million for injuries suffered in the wreck and $6.2 million for the loss of his wife.
In 2011, Judge Edward L. Hogshire ordered Murray and Lester to pay $722,000 to the legal teams representing Allied Concrete for reimbursement of fees incurred because of conduct by Murray and Lester. Hogshire let the jury’s award for Lester’s injuries stand but slashed his award for the loss of his wife to $2.1 million, saying the award was so excessive that it was likely caused by “bias, sympathy, passion or prejudice.”
The state Supreme Court later reversed that ruling and reinstated the judgment. The sanctions remained in place.