Elizabeth Lee Beck, with Beck & Lee. (J. Albert Diaz)
Miami attorney Elizabeth Beck’s social media posts display a brazen, middle-finger-waving persona.
On Sept. 25, for instance, Beck broadcast live on Facebook when a deposition in a class action lawsuit turned confrontational and opposing counsel reportedly threatened to call security to force her out of the building.
In a profession where members treat every Facebook “like” or Twitter post as a potential spark for litigation, Beck is a provocateur straddling the line between First Amendment protections and the rules of attorney professionalism. She is the first to admit she rants. Often. And in public.
“Hahaha. Dolphin’s coach is a cokehead,” she posted Oct. 9 as news broke that Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after video of him snorting white powder vent viral on social media.
A day earlier, she wrote, ”I already know our courts are shit.”
Through several social media accounts with thousands of followers, she cuts down rivals, swings at critics and even taunts the Florida Bar. Her most notorious outlet, The Cranky Lawyer Twitter page, is rife with profanity, conspiracy theories, jabs at Miami’s FBI office and insults traded with those who take offense at her tweets.
“It’s not an exercise in anything,” Beck said. “I’m venting.”
And that’s perfectly OK, according to experts in attorney ethics and constitutional law.
“As someone who takes pride in being a lawyer, it doesn’t warm my heart to see another lawyer tweeting in that manner,” said Florida Bar ethics committee member Andrew S. Berman, senior partner at Young Berman Karpf & Gonzalez in Miami. “But the First Amendment doesn’t regulate style or tact.”
Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker confirmed the bar has no open investigation against the self-described Cranky Lawyer.
Beck’s posts are often vitriolic. And ironically they appear to take a page from the Twitter playbook of President Donald Trump, who took to social media during his political campaign to fire back at Beck after she famously accused him of calling her “disgusting” during a 2011 deposition.
“Ask her clients if they are happy with her results against me,” Trump tweeted at 5:32 a.m. on July 29, 2015. “Got total win and legal fees.”
The feud gained the attorney national media attention — and a new outlet.
“I was trying to be accurate, coming forward with all the relevant facts,” Beck said. “But what Trump did is he went on Twitter.”
Now Beck is the one whose social media flareups raise eyebrows — and questions — about attorneys’ free-speech rights.
“We give up a little bit of that as lawyers because we’re not allowed reckless criticism of judges but, other than that, lawyers retain their First Amendment rights,” said Bast Amron special counsel Brian Tannebaum, a Miami ethics lawyer who represents attorneys in disciplinary and bar admission cases. ”I am approached by lawyers everyday, saying they can’t say the types of things that I say on social media — either out of fear from supervisors at their law firms or their clients.”
Tannebaum’s Twitter account, @btannebaum, suggest an anti-Trump slant and a wry sense of humor. “I don’t want to gratuitously offend anybody, but if a potential client doesn’t want to hire me because I wrote something on Twitter, that’s not something I’m concerned about,” he said.
Beck is part of a two-lawyer firm with her husband, Jared, which means she’s not accountable to a manager. Attorneys in different circumstances have not fared as well.
In June 2016, Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis lost his job over Facebook posts following a mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Lewis described Orlando clubs as “cesspools of debauchery” and said downtown Orlando was a “melting pot of third world miscreants and ghetto thugs.”
On Oct. 2, CBS corporate counsel Hayley Geftman-Gold lost her job over a Facebook post following the mass shooting that left 58 people dead at Las Vegas country music festival the day before. Geftman-Gold said “country music fans often are Republican gun-toters” who did not deserve sympathy.
“We are losing rights every day,” Beck said. “Our right to free speech — I would say it’s not down to its last gasp, but it has been greatly eroded.”
In response to a Twitter follower disappointed by a ruling in a foreclosure suit, Beck suggested the judge might have been bribed. That’s a jaw-dropping reply from an attorney, especially since Florida Bar rules prohibit lawyers from knowingly making false statements about the integrity of judges.
But Beck’s post, framed as a question about an unnamed judge, doesn’t appear to hit that level. Neither does her photo of a campaign message from attorney Richard Alayon after a fundraiser to retain Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David C. Miller.
“Do you think this lawyer Richard Alayon would get treated differently when he appears before Judge Miller?” Beck asked.
Jan Leslie Jacobowitz, University of Miami School of Law lecturer and director of the school’s professional responsibility and ethics program, described Beck’s tweets as mostly political commentary — the most protected form of speech under the First Amendment. But the tweet about Miller’s potential impartiality toward a political supporter gave Jacobowitz pause.
“We’re at best in the gray zone. This one really pushes the envelope. It’s on the line because she seems to be questioning the integrity of this lawyer and the judge,” Jacobowitz said. “But some might say she’s just posing a question.”
Berman, who said he’s participated in numerous judicial fundraisers, saw Beck’s inquiry as a valid question about the electoral process and a legitimate issue for public discussion.
“She’s being circumspect,” he said. “A lot of people have discussed this over time.”
Beck attended Yale Law School and graduated with high honors from the University of California at Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in pure mathematics, according to her website.
She’s fighting Uber as a plaintiffs attorney in a case involving a driver seeking to carry a gun while on duty and raised the specter of members suing their political party through a class action lawsuit on behalf of Bernie Sanders supporters against the Democratic National Committee.
But Beck insists on her right to freely express her opinions on personal social media accounts despite decisions by many of her colleagues to do otherwise.
“I have to say that I am kind of disappointed with my profession,” she said. “I think lawyers are very cowardly.”
Samantha Joseph is an award-winning journalist with @dbreview, @LawDotCom, @ALMMedia +more. Grad School: @SyracuseComm. Contact: email@example.com. On Twitter: @SjosephWriter