Lawyer removes post calling his client a ‘terrible criminal’
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A lawyer representing a notorious Iowa murder suspect removed a Facebook post Friday in which he called another client an “idiot” and “terrible criminal” who deserved to be jailed.
Marshalltown defense attorney Chad Frese said his post was being misinterpreted by other lawyers, who said the rant was highly inappropriate and likely violated ethics rules governing the profession. He said he shared the post only with his Facebook friends and that he didn’t think it crossed any lines.
Frese and his wife are representing Cristhian Bahena-Rivera, who is charged in the July slaying of 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbetts in Brooklyn, Iowa. Rivera, a Mexican national suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, is scheduled to stand trial in April in a case that has inflamed passions about immigration.
The Associated Press obtained a screen shot of the post in which Frese recounted meeting this week with another defendant to prepare for a trial involving federal gun and drug charges. He wrote that he was “flabbergasted” when the man said Frese would have a hard time connecting with blue-collar jurors because he hadn’t “had to work for anything in your life.”
Frese said he took offense because “anyone who knows me” is aware of his modest upbringing, and he called the man an ”(expletive) idiot and a terrible criminal.”
“He needed to shut his mouth because he was the dumbest person in the conversation by 100 times,” Frese wrote. He added, “You wonder why we need jails huh?”
Iowa rules of professional conduct require lawyers to keep client conversations confidential in order to maintain their trust and to limit public statements about pending cases, particularly those that can result in incarceration. Lawyers are to refrain from discussing “the character, credibility, reputation, or criminal record” of any party and from offering opinions on innocence or guilt.
“It’s amazing any lawyer would put that on social media,” said Des Moines attorney Grant Woodard. “I think it violates the sacred trust between an attorney and the client.”
Frese didn’t identify the client, but he posted enough information that the man’s name could be determined through court records.
Asked about the post Friday, Frese removed it and twice claimed that he was referring to a “former client.” He later admitted that was false, saying he was caught off guard by the inquiry.
Frese said the post was intended to express his disbelief that anyone would accuse him of being born with a “silver spoon” and that he received many supportive comments.
In the interview, he recalled telling the man, “You are in jail and you are terrible at what you did because you got caught and caught bad. And you’re missing the boat here.” He said he they later shook hands and left on good terms.
Frese had already come under scrutiny for an earlier Facebook post after Rivera was charged. Frese, who didn’t yet represent Rivera, wrote that the public had unfairly rushed to judgment against a farmer who’d been interviewed by investigators during the search for Tibbetts, writing: “But wait .... an illegal alien snatched her up and committed this heinous act? He admitted to it? He took the cops to the body?”
Frese said he was explaining the importance of fair legal proceedings. He subsequently changed his privacy settings so that only friends could see his posts.