A federal appeals court on Monday overturned a six-month suspension given to a Lafayette attorney for speaking with local media in 2014 about the criminal case of two other attorneys, one of whom shot himself during his trial.
At issue were William Goode’s comments to reporters after attorney Barry Domingue shot himself in the head just hours before the second day of testimony in the case against Domingue and another attorney, Daniel Stanford, who were charged in an investigation of a local synthetic marijuana operation.
U.S. District Judge Dee Drell sanctioned Goode with a six-month suspension from practicing in federal court here, citing a local court rule that bars attorneys associated with a criminal case from making any comments to the media other than to quote from or refer to documents in the public court record.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the local court rule, as applied in Goode’s case, was so broad it might run afoul of the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
The six-month suspension was on hold pending the appeal, but Goode said the ordeal of fighting the case and the prospect of a smudge on his legal career has weighed heavy on him.
“For an officer of the court, this is awful,” he said.
Goode, who was not representing the other attorneys but knew both of them, spoke to reporters a few hours after Domingue shot himself.
At least two stories were published online before the judge reconvened court and declared a mistrial, prompting concerns about the news potentially tainting the jury if the judge had decided to move forward with the case against Stanford.
Goode had confirmed Domingue shot himself in the head and offered his opinion that Domingue was innocent and that the government’s case was “made up.”
Goode, a longtime friend of Domingue, said he did not intend to influence the jury and had asked one of the reporters not to publish anything until there was confirmation a mistrial had been declared.
“I was just trying to help my friend. ... I wanted to explain that Barry Domingue did not kill himself because he had done anything wrong,” Goode said. “Barry killed himself because he couldn’t take the pressure of the case.”
Domingue was initially on life support but died soon after he shot himself.
Stanford’s trial was rescheduled, and the attorney was convicted on drug and money-laundering charges for his role in helping manage the business dealings of a large-scale synthetic marijuana operation that federal prosecutors said sold more than $5 million worth of drugs.
He was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison.