Keep bar high in all conduct, online included
The Ohio Supreme Court has declined to take any disciplinary action against Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker, but that doesn’t make his unprofessional social media posts acceptable.
Becker is known throughout Trumbull County and even Ohio for his excellent work in fighting for victims of crime in his tough and thorough prosecution of criminals. He is a very good trial attorney and, at least once, he has been named Outstanding Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Ohio by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
But even the best misstep, and unquestionably, Becker did.
A complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court in 2019 called into question several social media posts on Becker’s personal Twitter account that poked fun largely at county criminal defendants.
His posts often contained photos of inmates in the courtroom. Here are just a few of his many tweets:
“Clowns to the left of me jokers to the right…”
“Relocating some fools.”
“I’m in the involuntary relocation services business.”
“A bunch of turkeys in orange.”
“You’ve heard of the Circleville Pumpkin show? This is the Trumbull County criminal show,” was posted along with a blurry image of defendants wearing orange jumpsuits in a county courtroom.
Becker was recently cleared of by the disciplinary counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio, who determined the official’s actions did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.
Earlier, Becker’s boss, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins also had said that while people may find the social media posts insensitive, he didn’t believe they violated any professional ethics.
In a March 31 letter to the complainant, assistant disciplinary Counsel Adam P. Bessler agreed that Becker did not violate the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. The state body dismissed the grievance and closed the case.
“The First Amendment protects an attorney as it would any ordinary citizen, except for when the attorney is acting in some professional capacity in the matter in which the speech occurs,” Bessler wrote to the complainant.
Still, Bessler expressed criticism at Becker’s actions.
“Please understand that we do not condone Mr. Becker’s actions,” Bessler wrote. “In fact, we are hard-pressed to find any professionalism and civility in Mr. Becker’s actions. He has certainly brought shame and embarrassment to the legal profession.”
Through the years, we have seen and reported on many instances where people were damaged as a target of social media posts. Likewise, many others have been damaged by their own poor judgment when they got carried away with opportunities to share ridiculous thoughts, inappropriate comments or insensitive jokes online.
It seems Becker fell into this trap.
He told our reporter he hopes to put this matter behind him.
We are hopeful this is a learning moment, not only for Becker, but for anyone who reads this commentary.
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Those of us in public or business roles must keep the bar high. We must maintain professionalism in all our conduct — in person and online.