The Supreme Court of New Jersey reprimanded a lawyer for violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Rule 8.4(g) in a medical malpractice case against an Asian optometrist. See In re Farmer, No. DRB 18-276. Normally, the race of the defendant doctor would be of no significance in a malpractice case. The respondent, however, performed Internet research and came to believe that the doctor lied and deceived his client as a result of the doctor’s Chinese heritage and upbringing. The lawyer shared his “research findings” with the optometrist’s lawyer in an effort to settle the matter.
In evaluating the respondent’s conduct, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that the term “discrimination” includes “derogatory and demeaning language, and, generally, any conduct towards the named groups that are both harmful and discriminatory.” The court found that the respondent’s statements, which “were written in his professional capacity, during the course of civil litigation,” were “discriminatory and demeaning on their face, ascribing misrepresentations purportedly made by Dr. Huang directly to his Chinese heritage.” Further, the court rejected the respondent’s I-found-it-on-the-Internet defense:
Respondent’s asserted defenses–that he is not racist, and that he is absolved of any misconduct because he relied on “expert opinions” in the submitted internet articles–are wholly specious and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, as the DEC hearing panel noted, the articles on which respondent relied were merely “opinion pieces found on the internet, without any indication of the credentials of the respective authors.”
“The mere existence of an opinion online does not establish its author as an expert. If it did, every post on Facebook or Twitter could constitute and expert opinion.”See id. at 8-9.