Cassidy & Associates vice chairman Gregg Hartley didn't like a critical New York Times story this week on one of the firm's biggest clients, Equatorial Guinea.
So he's hitting back against the reporter, Ian Urbina, using an unusual vehicle: His personal Twitter feed.
"How does NY Times manage its reporter's conflicts of interest?" Hartley tweeted indignantly on Tuesday. "Not well. Re: Equatorial Guinea, father was judge in controversial case."
Naturally, Twitter isn't the best way to give all the context here. Urbina's father, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina, indeed presided over a high-profile case involving Equatorial Guinea. In 2005, Washington, D.C., stalwart Riggs Bank pleaded guilty to failing to report suspicious transactions. The bank accounts involved included some held by leaders of Equatorial Guinea, and others belonging to onetime Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In an interview, Hartley said he believed Ian Urbina's connection to the judge meant that "there is a perceptual conflict," or bias. Hartley said he is still deciding how to raise his concerns with the Times directly.
In response to a request for comment from Ian Urbina, Diane McNulty, executive director of community affairs and media relations for the Times, said the paper stands by the article. Urbina discussed his father's role in the case with his editor in advance, she said, and "there was no conflict of interest, and the judge's role had no bearing whatsoever on the article." Urbina noted that there was no trial in the case. "There was nothing for me to rule on other than accepting the plea and meting out a sentence," Urbina said.
Asked why he took to Twitter instead of sticking to more traditional lobbying tools such as meetings with lawmakers, Hartley said the firm -- which hosts a blog on its Web site -- is "trying to find if it gives us another round of ammunition."
"I was a little fired up at the moment and so used the Twitter to express my frustration at mainline journalism," he said.
Hartley also acknowledged that he hadn't verified what he'd heard about Urbina's connection to the judge before tweeting. "Here's one thing about social media. You don't have to always be right," he said, though he said he would tweet a correction if he was wrong.
Hartley is a prolific twitterer, commenting on everything from the weather to politics to dinner (liver and onions last night, in case anyone is wondering). In fact, he appeared to send out a tweet while being interviewed for this story: "Should all businesses who are "engaged" on public policy be able to deduct both political contributions and lobbying expenses?"
Cassidy has represented Equatorial Guinea since 2004, disclosure reports filed with the Justice Department show, and the oil-rich country has paid the firm $1.39 million in fees and expenses so far this year.
Of course, Twitter is free.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.