No, @NYSBA Cannot Disbar Aaron Schlossberg
All it took was one tweet from a New York columnist with 977,000 followers and the New York State Bar Association was in the eye of a social media firestorm.
Shaun King’s tweet asking NYSBA to get involved was in response to the viral video that surfaced online May 16 of New York City lawyer Aaron Schlossberg’s racist tirade directed at Spanish-speaking employees and customers at a Fresh Kitchen restaurant.
“Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English,” Schlossberg said. “It’s America.”
He then threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement “to have each one of them kicked out of my country.”
NYSBA’s Twitter account, @NYSBA, was flooded with tweets, some polite, others not-so-polite, urging the Association to discipline or disbar Schlossberg.
“@NYSBA Disbar Aaron M Schlossberg for being a racist bigot!”
“@NYSBA Is this what you tolerate, encourage or condone from a member of your bar association?”
“Alright everyone. Contact the
@NYSBA and let’s make sure he no longer works in law.”
In just a few days, NYSBA received 608,000 views of its tweets. In a normal week it’s somewhere above 35,000.
Schlossberg’s tirade also received national media attention. And with that came inquiries asking if he was a member (he’s not) and if NYSBA planned to discipline him.
Thinking NYSBA handles attorney discipline is a common mistake made by the general public and the news media alike, especially since some states’ bar associations do, indeed, handle attorney discipline. The Association provided a written response that is also on its website, explaining how the process works.
“The New York State Bar Association is a voluntary membership bar association, and attorneys are not required to belong to NYSBA in order to practice in New York. NYSBA has no statutory or regulatory role relating to the certification or discipline of attorneys in New York State.”
In certain other states, state bar associations handle attorney certification and ethics and disciplinary matters. Under New York law, these matters are handled by the New York State Unified Court System and the Office of Court Administration (www.courts.state.ny.us). Complaints against attorneys are investigated by grievance committees appointed by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. Information about the grievance process and contact information for the grievance committees is available at www.nycourts.gov/attorneys/grievance.
NYSBA responded to the flood of Schlossberg-related tweets with a shortened version of the disclaimer and a link. Most people were pleased with the quick response educating them on the process.
“Thank you for your prompt reply. It’s always nice to see organizations help and educate the general public. Your assistance is much appreciated.”
“Massive thanks for the clarity!”
“Dear @NYSBA – bravo! As a Hispanic, your prompt answer confirms our faith in the system. Thanks a lot.”
In the aftermath, @NYSBA gained 200 new followers, 64 new Facebook likes and 50 new Instagram followers. Unable to please everyone, NYSBA’s Facebook rating went from 4.1 to 3.8.
As far as Schlossberg goes, grievances have already been filed with the state court system, he’s been evicted from his law office and a mariachi band serenaded him outside his home and office May 18 in the presence of over 100 protesters. He has since apologized on Twitter.