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Judge removes attorney from prison corruption case for comments posted to Facebook

An attorney assigned to represent a correctional officer charged in a scheme to smuggle drugs and other items into a state prison facility was removed from the case after posting about it on Facebook.

U. S. District Judge James K. Bredar recently ordered attorney Anton J.S. Keating be removed from the case. Keating, a Baltimore-based attorney, had been assigned to represent Jocelyn Byrd, a correctional officer at the Eastern Correctional Institution.

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Keating posted a link on his personal Facebook page to a WBAL-TV story about the case, along with the words, "back in the saddle again .... .! need the action and the fee ..."

In his order, Bredar wrote that "it is highly inappropriate for a lawyer, in reference to a case and in a semi-public setting to imply, even jokingly, that he might be out of practice, or that he is in need of some stimulation in his personal or professional life that he hopes the case will provide, or that he is involved in the case primarily for the fee it will generate."

Keating said the judge overreacted.

"I just didn't think it was a big deal at all," he said.

Keating hasn't removed the post from Facebook. He said he reposted it. "Back in the saddle again" was reference to a Gene Autry song, and merely a joke, he said. "Sometimes the only thing to keep you going on is to have sense of humor."

He said his client was disappointed that he would no longer be representing her.

Byrd was among 80 people indicted, including officers and inmates, who allegedly conspired to smuggle drugs, pornography and other contraband into the Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore.

Keating, a member of the court's felony panel of attorneys, was appointed to represent Byrd. Panel attorneys represent those facing serious offense who are otherwise unable to afford a lawyer on their own.

"The Court also takes pains to insure that the lawyers it appoints are consummate professionals, i.e., attorneys who can be counted on to put their client's interests first and before their own," Bredar wrote in the order.

Keating said he's an experienced trial attorney who has handled numerous death penalty cases, and, when he was a prosecutor, he also handled several prison cases, making him qualified to work on this case. He said he's always been committed to his clients.

Eric Easton, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said, "Lawyers like anybody else, have broad free speech rights and are certainly entitled to comment on all manner of things. But they are, at the same time, officers of the court. When it comes to matters of a case they are dealing with, they generally cede some of their free speech rights."

While Keating may not have intended any harm, Easton said, "the judge's first responsibility is to make sure the proceedings are fair and unbiased."

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