Charlottesville attorney Matthew B. Murray has paid a $542,000 sanction imposed in 2011 for his part in attempting to thwart access to a client’s Facebook account during a multimillion-dollar wrongful death lawsuit.
Murray faces a disciplinary hearing after a Virginia State Bar investigation into his actions. The hearing has yet to be scheduled, according to the association’s website.
A bar subcommittee reviewed the investigation and voted to have the case heard by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board, said Ned Davis, of the bar. That panel can suspend or revoke a lawyer’s license or impose lesser sanctions, Davis said. Lawyers can demand that the case instead be heard by a three-judge circuit court, he said.
Murray was out of the area and could not be reached before deadline Tuesday.
Murray's actions came during a December 2010 trial in a wrongful death lawsuit filed for his client, Isaiah Lester, against Allied Concrete. That case resulted in an $8.5-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 a truck filled with liquid concrete and traveling east crossed the centerline and tipped over onto the Lesters' vehicle. Jessica Lester later died from her injuries.
The driver pled guilty to manslaughter and Lester filed the wrongful death suit.
As the case progressed through the system, Lester sent a Facebook message to an Allied attorney, allowing the lawyer to view Lester’s page. Allied attorneys issued a discovery request, seeking printed copies of Lester’s Facebook pages, including pictures, his profile and message board, status updates and messages.
A photo Lester posted to Facebook featured him holding a beer and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message “I love hot moms,” with love indicated by a heart.
According a state Supreme Court narrative, Murray instructed a paralegal in his office to tell Lester to clean up his Facebook page to avoid the photos and other information being brought to the trial. That violated court procedures. Lester deleted 16 photos, but all were eventually given to Allied attorneys prior to trial and Lester’s actions 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 attributed that to an error by the paralegal. He later told the court that he had concealed the email out of fear that the trial court would grant a continuance, according to the Supreme Court’s review.
The trial jury awarded Lester more than $2.3 million for injuries he suffered in the wreck and $6.2 million for the loss of his wife.
Judge Edward L. Hogshire ordered Murray and Lester in September 2011 to pay $722,000 to the legal teams representing Allied Concrete for reimbursement of legal fees incurred as a result of Murray and Lester’s conduct. 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 it was so excessive that it was likely caused by “bias, sympathy, passion or prejudice.”
That decision later was reversed by the state Supreme Court.
Murray resigned from the Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen law firm.