Everyone has bad days. But when the good days are bad, you know you’re in trouble.
By day, she was an assistant solicitor for South Carolina’s 7th Judicial Circuit, helping to lock people up at a merciless rate. But by night, she was Twitter handle @TheLillyLawyer, a self-described “baby prosecutor that can always be found below the Mason-Dixon line.”
She had been tweeting anonymously as @TheLillyLawyer for several years. Unfortunately for her, she continued doing so after she passed the South Carolina bar exam and became a prosecutor a few years ago. When she had something to say about anyone at work—including magistrates, crime survivors, witnesses, cops and defense lawyers—she made sure to tweet it for the world to see.
No one really noticed until @TheLillyLawyer said in late January, “It bothers me so much that the defense bar is given every deference in the world, but an officer’s case will be dismissed if he or she is five minutes late to court. Unreal.”
In 2020, especially on Twitter, you mess with defense attorneys at your own risk. Someone saw that tweet, then told a friend who told a friend. A defense attorney who did not want to be named contacted Filter, explaining how he figured out the handle’s real identity. Some local lawyers found out and spread the word, after seeing she was going lawyer-viral.
[Update, February 7: Filter originally published the name of the person behind @TheLillyLawyer but has now redacted it, taking the view that the wider issue, rather than the individual’s identity, is what matters.]
In no time, dozens of defense attorneys and criminal justice reform allies were taking her to task for saying something that the vast majority of lawyers know to be false.
But the rest of her tweet history, which I copied, provides a unique snapshot into the attitudes of a rank-and-filed member of a conservative prosecutor’s office: It is worse and more paradoxical than you might imagine.
For example, @TheLillyLawyer, a white woman, frequently used Black people’s reactions as GIFs to describe her emotions about various things, like how little she thinks of the public defenders she works with. A GIF of a Black person looking extremely skeptical was one reaction to a defendant telling a judge he will “get a public defender.” She also used African-American Vernacular English when recounting conversations with defendants, witnesses and victims. At one point, she mocked a defendant for living with his romantic partner while not being married.
Apparently, she also went to work drunk on occasion. One tweet on August 14, 2018 read, “I woke up still drunk. Today should be fun.” Ironically, she named drunk driving cases as her favorite part of the docket.
Additionally, she publicly called the veracity of her cases into question. She wrote on April 9, 2018, “Literally all of my witnesses are perjuring themselves.” If a prosecutor believes a witness for the state has lied on the stand, not correcting that on the record is a violation of the South Carolina ethics code for practicing law.
The assistant solicitor even mocked victims. On June 2, 2019, she recounted how she yelled “I CANNOT GIVE A SUBPOENA TO ‘CORNBREAD,” at a victim, when they offered a witness’s nickname instead of a legal name. In December 2018, she had said, “Sometimes my victims don’t answer my initial calls because it’s a number they don’t recognize. Unless my victim is a low key drug dealer. Then they always answer.” (She added a laughing emoji.)
Publicly expressing her real thoughts about her work was unusual. But many years of involvement in this field tell me that views like hers are common.
Even the way she talked about the police and her relationship with them reflects a lack of professionalism in South Carolina law enforcement. Tweets like July 19, 2018’s “I’ll say it again: If the cuffs are on, MIRANDIZE THEM” came up more than once on her now-deleted feed. One tweet from September 20, 2018, about how she claimed she “wasn’t going to date anyone rn, but then I see the new cops fresh from the academy,” might have been funny when her feed read like a parody account. Now it just recalls how two Kentucky different head local prosecutors got in hot water for having sexual relations with cops on their cases, back in 2017.
Beyond that, @TheLillyLawyer tweeted about the protest over the years-long mold problem at the Spartanburg courthouse on December 5, 2017, stating “There is literally a protest outside our courthouse over the mold problem,” then “Clerks of court are shouting, y’all. Bless.” A Google search reveals only one courthouse with protests outside of it regarding a mold problem in that timeframe.
From there, it was relatively easy to locate the rest of the individual’s now-deleted social media accounts, including LinkedIn and Facebook. One image, from July 4, 2013, showed her draping herself in the American flag, Donald Trump-style. It might have served to impress her local friends—Spartanburg County is one of the five most conservative counties in South Carolina, one of the most conservative states—but also presents a searing, if unintentional, self-parody.
She tweeted that she got a raise as recently as June 17, 2019. But her job, which involved handling felony drug and firearm cases where people faced serious prison time, did not survive her exposure. When Filter asked spokesman Murray Graham of the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office for comment, he initially declined, but later said that the individual “no longer works here.”
The reason for her departure certainly wasn’t ideological, however, as her old boss, Solicitor Ben Barnette, is also a draconian, “tough on crime” prosecutor. Last year, he penned a fear-mongering op-ed about bills proposing to decrease South Carolina’s extremely high incarceration rate, stating “The omission of victims’ perspectives in the crafting of these bills is mind-boggling.”
Rather, the perceived problem was likely PR. In terms of publicly expressing her real thoughts about her work, the former assistant solicitor is unusual. But many years of involvement in this field tell me that views like hers are common.
She’s not the only prosecutor to have let the mask slip, however. Florida Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis was fired as Orlando’s prosecutor in 2016 after he said—mere hours after the Pulse nightclub shooting—that all of downtown Orlando should be “leveled” because it is a “melting pot of 3rd world miscreants and ghetto thugs.”
Who knows how many more prosecutors like them are hiding in plain sight?