Sunday, December 30, 2012

New ABA Commission 20/20 proposals

The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 recently filed four resolutions and reports for the ABA House of Delegates to consider at its February 2013 midyear meeting.   Over at Legal Ethics Forum, Professor Andrew Perlman has posted summaries of the proposals and links to the relevant documents.  The proposals address issues relating to the increasing globalization of the legal marketplace and, with one exception, focus on issues arising for foreign lawyers seeking to practice in the U.S. (i.e., inbound foreign lawyers). 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Your Client Has Obtained Privileged Documents Belonging to the Adversary. What Do You Do Now?

Over at the Legal Ethics Forum, Nicole Hyland asks "Your client has obtained privileged documents belonging to the adversary. What do you do now?"  Go here for her answer and comments.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Should Justice Scalia recuse himself from cases related to gay marriage? part 2

A few days ago, I posted a note with links to several articles on whether Justice Scalia should recuse himself from cases related to gay marriage.  Today, Professor Richard Painter replied to some of the criticism in those articles in The Legal Ethics Forum and other forum participants posted comments to his reply.  Take a look at the discussion by going here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

National Law Journal survey on hourly fees

The National Law Journal has published a survey of hourly fees based on information provided by 55 of the nation's largest firms.  The full survey results are available here.  Among other things, it shows that the highest billing rate is $1,285 an hour and that the median hourly billing rate for partners is $501 and for associates is $317.

60 Minutes (the tv show) segment on wrongful convictions

Last week, the TV show 60 minutes devoted one of its segments to the problem of wrongful convictions.  The show was mostly about police interrogation techniques in Chicago which has allegedly produced twice as many cases of false confessions (leading to wrongful convictions) than any other city in the US.  However, there is a section of the show that discusses the role of prosecutors.  The interview with Chicago's Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez is particularly troubling.  She is simply not willing to admit to the possibility that mistakes were committed.  I don't think she comes out looking particularly well, but you can judge for yourself.  The segment appears below in its entirety, or you can watch it in the 60 Minutes website where you will also find more information.

UPDATE:  The ABA Journal and the Chicago Tribune are reporting that Alvarez sent a letter to CBS complaining that she was unfairly portrayed in the clips chosen for the show.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Should Justice Scalia recuse himself from cases related to gay marriage?

The question of how to determine when a Supreme Court justice should recuse him or herself has been in the news a lot this year. It was part of the conversation leading up to the appeal on the Obama administration's health care reform, for example, and many have argued the Court should adopt rules on the subject. I reported on this here, here and here.

The question is now back in the news. Over the last few days, at least three articles were published calling for Justice Scalia's recusal. The articles were published in The Daily Beast, The Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post.

Obama administration drops attempt to regulate the representation of Guantanamo detainees

Back in September, I wrote about the Obama administration's attempt to interfere and regulate the representation of Guantanamo detainees. See here. Some time later, a federal court refused to go along. See here. Now comes news the administration has dropped its appeal. Go here for the full story.

UPDATE 11 pm: The SCOTUS Blog has more on the story here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

West Virginia Board Recommends Judge’s Suspension Until 2016 In Part Based On His Demeanor In Disciplinary Hearing

You may remember my previous posts on a video (apparently a big hit on You Tube) in which a judge totally loses control during a divorce hearing and starts yelling at one of the parties.  See here (includes the video), here and here.  After one of the parties complained, the West Virginia Supreme Court announced that no charges would be filed against the judge, but later it was announced that the state's Judicial Investigation Commission would consider charges against the judge. 

The claim has now been decided and the Commission has ruled the judge shoudl be suspended for the rest of his term - until 2016 - at least in part because of his attitude toward the complainants during the proceedings.

Professor Jonathan Turley, who has been following the case closely in his blog since the beginning, has a comment on the decision here.  He argues that he is "a bit uncomfortable with crossed arms and a glare being any basis for a recommendation, but demeanor is a classic factor in evaluating a witness or an accused party." 

The judge's attitude during the hearing was not the only basis for discipline, though.  The Commission also found that he "routinely engaged in injudicious conduct and “demonstrated a preference for using threats, intimidation, profanity and shouting rather than the tools available to judges, including civil and criminal contempt, to deal with admittedly difficult litigants.”

California judge reprimanded for comments about rape

USA Today is reporting that a Southern California judge has been admonished for saying a rape victim "didn't put up a fight" during her assault and that if someone doesn't want sexual intercourse, the body "will not permit that to happen."

The California Commission on Judicial Performance voted 10-0 to impose a public admonishment saying Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson's comments were inappropriate and a breach of judicial ethics.

"In the commission's view, the judge's remarks reflected outdated, biased and insensitive views about sexual assault victims who do not 'put up a fight.' Such comments cannot help but diminish public confidence and trust in the impartiality of the judiciary," wrote Lawrence J. Simi, the commission's chairman.

You can find the full story here.  Atlantic Wire has more on the story here

UPDATE 12/14/12:   Prof. Jonathan Turley comments on the story here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Professional Responsibility Essay Contest ($5,000 prize and more)

Law students looking for a challenge and an opportunity to earn $5,000 and a trip to New Orleans should consider entering the Levit Essay Contest on Lawyers' Professional Liability.  This is an annual competition that encourages original and innovative research and writing in the area of legal malpractice law, professional liability insurance and loss prevention.

To enter you must prepare an essay addressing the issues raised by the contest hypothetical.  This year's hypothetical involves questions about a law firm’s potential malpractice exposure when it relied upon a third-party vendor to provide document review services for a client, which ultimately resulted in the release of privileged documents.  You can find the hypo here.  You can also read the hypos and winning answers for the last few years here.

The author of the winning entry will win a cash award of $5,000 and an all expense paid trip to the Spring 2013 National Legal Malpractice Conference in New Orleans, LA, on April 24–26, 2013.

Online entries must be submitted by 11:59 PM CST on February 22, 2013.  Mailed entries must be postmarked by February 22, 2013.

The contest is open to Young Lawyers Division or Law Student Division members of the ABA, in good standing as of February 22, 2013. Go here for more information.

New Mexico rejects screening as a way to avoid conflict when a lawyer joins a new firm

In an opinion released last week, the Supreme Court of New Mexico has interpreted the state rule on imputation of conflicts of interest to hold that a firm may not represent a client if a new lawyer on the firm had played a substantial role in representing an interest adverse to the client in the lawyer's former firm.  If the lawyer played a substantial role, the firm would be disqualified automatically.  Screening, which is now accepted in the ABA Model Rules as an alternative to avoid this type of conflict, is not an option in New Mexico.  The case is called Mercer, LLC. v. Reynolds and it is available here

Thanks to the Legal Profession blog for the link.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Comment on whether sentencing a defendant to go to church is proper under First Amendment analysis

I have commented before on the practice of some judges of imposing unorthodox, unusual or "creative" punishment, in lieu of applying the law, including the recent case where a judge sentenced a young man to going to church.  See here.   On the same topic but from a different perspective, here is a link to an article in the First Amendment Center arguing that sentencing someone to go to church violates the First Amendment.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Comment on the case challenging rules against non lawyer ownership of firms

Over at the Legal Ethics Forum, Nicole Hyland has published a good short comment on the recent decision to revive the case challenging the rules that ban non lawyers from having ownership interests in law firms.  You can read her comment here.

Is it unethical for an attorney to publicly disagree with a former client's interpretation of a decision issued in a case where the attorney represented the client?

Is it unethical for an attorney to publicly disagree with a former client's interpretation of a decision issued in a case where the attorney represented the client?  

In discussing a letter to the editor in the New York Times by famous attorney Floyd Abrams (available here), The Legal Ethics Forum offers some opinions on the issue.  Go here for that discussion.  

In her contribution to the discussion, Nicole Hyland explains that she does not think it is unethical as follows:
We owe a duty of confidentiality to former clients, but nothing Abrams wrote revealed confidential information. Whether we continue to owe a duty of loyalty is obviously much debated, but even if we do, I still don't see how this would violate the duty of loyalty. Attorneys have to be able to discuss legal precedent and give their interpretations of what cases mean - even their own cases. If your interpretation of the decision differs with your former client's, that can't be an ethical violation. A thornier question is whether the lawyer can later say that he disagrees with the outcome of a decision that was favorable to his former client (i.e. what if Abrams were arguing that Sullivan was wrongly decided and should be reversed?). That seems to go into the territory of a lawyer attacking his former work product.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Court of Appeals revives case challenging the ban on non lawyer ownership of law firms

Back in May of 2011, I wrote the "the next big thing" in Legal Ethics/Professional Responsibility was going to be the debate on whether non lawyers should be allowed to invest (or "own") law firms.  See my original post (with links to more information) here.  Since then, there have been lots of conferences, articles and a lot of discussion on the subject.

At that time, the issue came to the forefront because the law firm Jacoby & Meyers filed a lawsuit in New York challenging the state rules barring outsiders from owning stakes in firms arguing the rules unconstitutionally restrict interstate commerce. However, almost a year later, in March of this year, the lawsuit was dismissed.  Go here for my post on that (again, with links to more information).

Now comes news that the debate can continue...  In an order issued last week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that Jacoby & Myers can amend its complaint to challenge all provisions of New York law that bar non lawyer investment in law firms. For more on the story, you can go to The ABA Journal, The New York Law Journal, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

UPDATE (11-30-12):  there is good comment on the issue in the Legal Ethics Forum by Nicole Hyland.

How not to practice law: on appeal, prepare a lousy brief in which you don't discuss the law or support your position

Continuing our running list of examples on how not to practice law, here is a link to a brand new opinion from the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in a case called Rodriguez-Machado v. Shinseki, (available here) in which the court (per curiam) says that "the plaintiff's briefs are textbook examples of how not to litigate a case on appeal." In support of this conclusion, the court explains that
...plaintiff's opening brief offers no specific record cites to support her version of the facts, which, again, she alleges are in dispute... Essentially, she is asking us to do one of two things: accept what she says as gospel or mine the record ourselves to confirm the truth of her story – and there is no reason for us to do either.  ...Shockingly still, plaintiff's principal brief provides neither the necessary caselaw nor reasoned analysis to support her theories...
Later, the court adds that what the plaintiff has done "is not the type of serious effort that allows us to decide difficult questions ...and doing her work for her is not an option ..."

Given the bad quality of the appeal, the court decided to dismiss the appeal with prejudice.

The court makes clear that this is a drastic measure, but that it was within its discretion to take it.  However, obviously, when the court refers to "the plaintiff" in all this, it is really referring to her lawyer.  The drastic measure the court chose to take was really against the client.  Was this really a case where the client should suffer the consequences of the ineptitude of her lawyer?  Wouldn't it be more fair for the court to take action against the lawyer while giving the client a second chance? 

UPDATE 11/26/12 (9:30pm):  When I wrote my comment above, I was commenting on the court's opinion, not on the briefs the court criticizes.  I have not read the briefs.  However, over at Litigation and Trial, Max Kennerly has - and has posted a link to them so you can read them too.  Having read them, he also questions the court's decision but for different reasons than me.  He argues that, although the briefs do make a number of mistakes, it is a bit of an exaggeration to say, as the court does, that they are so bad they “cripple any attempt to review the issues intelligently.”  You can read his full comment here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

NJ Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics recommends to abolish the notion of an attorney's retaining lien

Otherwise is reporting that The New Jersey Supreme Court has invited public comment on a proposal to abolish “common law retaining lien.”  The recommendation comes from the Court's Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics.  The Advisory Committee found the lien to be obsolete and destructive of client relations. The Notice, Report and statement of the State Bar Association are available here.  The Legal Ethics Forum adds a comment here.

Excellent comments on discovery practice and litigation management

Over at the Litigation and Trial blog, Max Kennerly has published two excellent comments on issues related to discovery and litigation management.  In the first one (here), he concludes that "when courts forbid plaintiffs’ lawyers from sharing relevant discovery evidence amongst themselves, they inadvertently enable the defendants to engage in discovery fraud by cherry-picking which evidence they produce in each case."  In the second article (here), he reviews a new article by the federal judge (and the special masters he appointed) who oversaw the 9/11 Responders litigation which reveals another critical component of a successful and fair resolution of high-stakes litigation: judges need to make sure the cases move forward.   Professional Responsibility:  A Contemporary Approach also has a comment on the article here.

Proper punishment or abuse of discretion?

I have commented before on the practice of some judges of imposing unorthodox, unusual or "creative" punishment, in lieu of applying the law.  (See here, where you will find links to more.) Some argue there is value in seeking forms of punishment that do not involve jail terms. After all, this country does have too many people in prison as it is.  However, I think it is dangerous when judges feel they can do whatever they want.

The issue is again in the news following two recent cases.  In one, a judge sentenced a woman to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for police officers (here).  In another, the judge sentenced a minor to go to church for ten years (here).  I find both episodes objectionable and disturbing.  Professor Jonathan Turley has written about this subject many times in the past and his comment on these recent cases is available here.  It reads, in part,
Forcing citizens to cook for police officers is another example of a judge who panders to the public with sentences that seem “poetic justice.” Judges know that this type of punishment is hugely popular with the public. It is a trend that is erasing the line between entertainment and the law. There has been a continuing and growing trend of this type of abuse by judges. I have written columns (here and here and here) and blogs articles (here and here and here and here and here) criticizing this worrisome trend, though the most serious such cases involve judges like Norman who try to bring “more people to Jesus” while carrying out his duties as a judicial officer. These judges make a mockery out of our court system and sit like little Caesars in meting out their own idiosyncratic forms of justice — often to the thrill of citizens.
The case of the judge sentencing a defendant to go to church is discussed in this NY Times article.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Juror sentenced to two years in jail for lying during voir dire

Last week in class we discussed the ethical issues related to perjury, including the duty not to use evidence the lawyer knows is false and the duty to take remedial measures if a client has introduced material false evidence.  As part of the discussion, I usually tell my students that prosecutions for perjury are not very common, even though we have seen some high profile ones in the last few years (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example).  Now, intent in proving me wrong, apparently, Prof. Janathan Turley is reporting on a case in which a prospective juror pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in jail after he was forced to admit that he lied to the court in denying that he had any relationship with any of the parties in the case. The juror actually knew two of the defendants and also had prior contact with the alleged victim.  There is really no ethics or professional responsibility angle on the case, but it is an example of a court taking the issue seriously (by both enforcing the law and by impossing a significant penalty). 

Should President Obama terminate military commissions?

As President Obama prepares for his second term in the White House, should he put an end to military commissions, used to prosecute captured enemies for war crimes, and finally close Guantánamo?  In the New York Times page Room for Debate five scholars discuss the arguments for and against.  Click on the title of each individual debater's piece to read their full argument.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good advice: tell your client not to brag about his crimes on the air

Lowering the Bar has a post discussing multiple cases where clients get in trouble for bragging about their misconduct on the air (here).  LTB offers good advice about this:  don't do it.

Should a single incident of incompetence or negligence be enough to warrant discipline?

The Legal Profession blog is reporting on an interesting case in which the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals imposed sanctions on an attorney for what some members of the court thought was merely a single act of negligence. The case is called Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. Burke and it is available here.

The case is interesting because it raises the question of whether minor transgressions should subject lawyers to discipline.  Or, in other words, the question of at what point does a particular misconduct is "bad enough" to warrant discipline.  The majority opinion rejected the lawyer's argument that, even tough negligent, his conduct did not rise to an ethics violation, while, in a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Ketchum argued that "nothing [the] lawyer...did came close to being an ethical violation" and that a single act of negligence should not be considered to violate ethical standards. 

In fact, the Chief Justice opinion could be interpreted to say that there should not be discipline for any act of negligence:
The problem with the majority’s opinion is that it fails to define disciplinable incompetence with any clarity so as to allow for predictability. Single lawyer slipups are generally not ethical violations. They may expose the lawyer to professional negligence liability, but it has nothing to do with the lawyer’s ethics. Discipline should only be imposed when the lawyer’s error is intentional, reckless, repeated, or accompanied by some other misconduct like concealment.
What the Chief Justice is saying that a single incident of incompetence would justify discipline only if it was intentional.  But, if it was intentional, then it wouldn't be negligent, would it?  And, he also says if it was "repeated," in which case it would not be a single incident...

I don't necessarily disagree that a single instance of negligent conduct, depending on the circumstances, does not need to result in discipline, but this general assertion by the Chief Justice seems to be too broad.  Discipline can not be limited to instances of intentional conduct.  The very notion of incompetence is based on the fact that an attorney may violate a rule of conduct without intent.  Limiting the disciplinary system to the regulation of intentional conduct is not supported by the current regulatory approach and would be wrong and dangerous.

Does the Constitution Give Pretrial Detainees the Right to Disclosure of Exculpatory Evidence?

As is well known, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors have a duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants.  Failure to disclose such information would constitute a violation of the defendant’s right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  However, courts are unclear on whether the Fourteenth Amendment right to the disclosure of exculpatory evidence also extends to pretrial detainees.  As discussed in Circuit Splits, the Eighth Circuit recently touched on the disagreement among the circuits over this issue in a case called Livers v. Schenck.  Go here to see the full post by Circuit Splits.

What Would Happen If Nonlawyers Invested in Law Firms?

One of the, if not the, hottest topic in Professional Responsibility today is whether non-lawyers should be allowed to invest, fund or essentially "own" law firms.  Currently, the prevailing view in the US is that it would be a bad idea, while the opposite seems to be the view in the UK.  Here is a link to a short discussion the subject.  Make sure you read the comments below the main post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Washington Supreme Court reverses conviction because of prosecutor's improper use of PowerPoint presentation during closing statement

About a month ago, the Washington Supreme Court issued an interesting opinion holding that a prosecutor engaged in prejudicial misconduct requiring a new trial when he used a PowerPoint slide show during closing argument that featured highly inflammatory photos captioned with his own commentary and opinion, including several slides of the defendant with the word “guilty” superimposed across his face.  The case is called In re Glasmann. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen labeled the prosecutor's misconduct “flagrant and ill intentioned” and concluded that it so permeated the state's closing and tainted the case that the error could not have been cured by an instruction to the jury.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Comment on issues created by triangular relationship and the appointment of independent counsel to represent an insured

The New York Personal Injury Law blog has a good short comment on the duties of an attorney hired by an insurance company to represent one of several insured parties involved in a medical malpractice claim.  The case scenario discussed in the comment is not uncommon.  The plaintiff sued two physicians (an "attending" and a "resident") for injuries during a procedure but it is not clear which one of them actually caused the injury.  They both want to claim it was the other, but their actions are covered by one same insurance policy.  The insurance company assigns the case to two separate attorneys to represent each individual defendant separately.  Also, and again not unusual, the insurance company retains the right to agree to the terms of any settlement.  What happens when the insurance company wants to agree to a settlement that includes placing the blame on only one of the doctors?  How can it determine which one to blame and what are the rights of that doctor in the negotiating process?  What happens if the insurance company does not invite the attorney for one of the doctors to participate in the negotiation of a settlement?  These are some of the issues discussed.  You can read the comment here.

I think the comment is correct in the end - the bottom line being that the attorney assigned to represent the insured has a duty to demand to be part of all negotiations and a duty to defend the client's interests even if they are contrary to those of the insurance company.  The comment argues that even if the client does not have a financial interest at issue in the negotiation of the settlement, there are other interests at stake that require that he or she be represented fully.

I agree with the bottom line.  However, I think the comment is not entirely accurate in one small point.  It starts from the premise that the resident does not have a financial interest in the settlement negotiations "because the hospital has vicarious liability for its resident."   In other words, according to the premise, the insurance company justifies not inviting the attorney for the resident doctor to participate in the settlement process because the resident does not have to contribute to the settlement from her own funds," or because he or she "has no out-of-pocket responsibility to pay any part of the settlement amount."

It is true the resident doctor has no responsibility to contribute to the settlement amount, but that does not mean that he or she does not have a financial interest at stake.   The fact that there is vicarious liability allows the plaintiff to recover the full amount of compensation from the employer but it does not relieve the actor/tortfeasor from his or her liability to the employer.  The employer has the right to be indemnified in full.  The fact that employers rarely, if ever, decide to exercise that right does not mean the right does not exist.

Thus, unless the employer has agreed beforehand to waive the right to indemnity, the resident does have a duty to repay the employer for what the employer pays in the settlement.  And, for this reason, I would say that the resident can clearly argue that he or she does have a financial interest in participating in the negotiation. 

In other words, I agree there is duty on the attorney to represent the interests of the insured in the negotiation but that duty is based not only on the insured's personal interests but also on his or her financial interests at stake.

New opinion on the right of in-house counsel to sue former employer for retaliatory termination of employment

The question of whether in-house counsel have a right to sue a former employer/client for wrongful termination is one that continues to generate opinions around the country.  In class, for example, we discuss the (in)famous Balla v Gambro decision in which the court denies lawyers the right to sue for wrongful termination when they are fired for acting according to professional conduct obligations.

Other jurisdictions have taken different approaches, and just a few days ago, the D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee issued a new opinion in which it concludes that in-house lawyers suing their employers or clients for discrimination or a retaliatory firing can't disclose any confidences or secrets, unless they're defending against a counterclaim or affirmative defense.  The Blog of the Legal Times has more information here.

Video on Connick v Thompson

As you probably remember, back in 2010, the Supreme Court decided Connick v. Thompson, which has been described as "one of the most bitterly divided opinions of the Court in a criminal case in recent years," absolving the New Orleans District Attorney's office (under DA Harry Connick, Sr.) of complaints that it had failed to train prosecutors about their duty to disclose exculpatory evidence.  (If you type "Connick" on the "search this blog" box on the right side panel (under my name), you will find a long list of entries with a lot of information about that case.)  Adding to that wealth of information and materials, here is a very short but informative video on the case.


Thank you to Renee Newman Knake of Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach for the link.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Supreme Court hears oral argument on possible retroactive impact of Padilla v. Kentucky

After a two-day delay because of storm Sandy, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Chaidez v. United States, which raises the issue of the retroactive application of Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) in which the Court held that a Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel claim could be based on a defense counsel’s failure to inform his client of the possible immigration consequences of a plea agreement.  Kevin Johnson, a well known professor and scholar in the area of immigration law has posted a brief comment on the oral argument here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Judge in Trayvon Martin murder case denies request to regulate speech

The New York Times is reporting that the judge in the Trayvon Martin murder case on Monday denied a prosecution request to bar lawyers for George Zimmerman from using a Web site about legal issues, as well as social and traditional news media, to comment about the case.  Go here for the full story.

Sanctions for misconduct during depositions

In class we discuss a few cases illustrating improper conduct during depositions.  There are many such cases - and some videos - that are useful for this purpose.   Unfortunately, the problem does not seem to go away.  In part, the problem continues because by their very nature depositions are conducted away from the scrutiny of the court and many lawyers think that they can get away with being overly aggressive and insulting.  I don't know who they are trying to impress; but savy lawyers know how to counter those tactics.  Earlier this year, the ABA Journal reported on a case in New York where an attorney was imposed a $10,000 sanction for his behavior at a deposition.  See herehere and here.  The lawyer was also ordered to pay for the attorney's fees for the costs of pursuing the sanctions motion.  As reported yesterday, this bill came out to a little over $36,000.  So, over $46,000 out of your own pocket for being obnoxious and not knowing how to behave during a deposition should make you want to think twice about learning how to defend a deposition properly...

How not to practice law: beat up your client with a baseball bat!

The Legal Profession blog is reporting today (here) on a recent case in which an attorney was disbarred for, among other things, beating up a "defenseless client" with a baseball bat causing severe injuries.  The court agreed with the Hearing Panel that "causing such injuries to his client constituted a violation of Mr. Robinson’s duty to his client."  The opinion is available here.

So, just to be clear, you have a fiduciary duty to not beat up your client with a baseball bat!

All kidding aside, I wonder what the client did that made the lawyer lose it to the point of wanting to beat him up with the bat.  According to this article, the attorney claimed that the client broke into the lawyer's home but those charges were dismissed. 

Now, let's assume that a client breaks into a lawyer's home and threatens the lawyer or the lawyer's family.  Should the lawyer be disciplined for taking action to defend his life or his family?  I guess it is all a matter of degree.   Just a few days ago there were reports of a recent case from a jurisdiction that recognizes the right of a homeowner to use deadly force to defend his home.  See here and here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Update on Covington and Burling's disqualification in State of Minnesota v. 3M

Back in August I posted a story about the lawsuit filed by 3M Corporation against the law firm Covington & Burling (here) for an alleged violation of its fiduciary duties to 3M, and about two weeks ago I commented on the fact that Covington was disqualified in the underlying case that gave rise to the allegation.  In that case, Covington was representing the state of Minnesota against 3M who was a former client.  The court found that the current representation was substantially related to the former representation of 3M and granted the motion to disqualify.  See here.

Now comes news that Covington and the state of Minnesota have appealed the disqualification order. 

In its notice to appeal (available here), Covington (represented by different counsel) argues that the lower court erred because none of 3M's confidential information was "known to or used by" Covington lawyers representing the state of Minnesota and that the firm currently has a screen in place to prevent the attorneys who had represented 3M in the past from communicating with the lawyers who were currently representing Minnesota against 3M.

Covington may have a good argument in support of its position, but it is none of these.

In the order to disqualify, the court explained the analysis followed by courts in the state to decide these types of cases.  It is possible the judge was wrong about that, but since -to my knowledge - no one has made that argument I will assume that this is correct.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has established a three-part test to determine whether an attorney may represent a client in an action against the attorney's former client:  (1) first determine if the two representations are substantially related; (2) if so, it is presumed, irrebuttably, that the attorney received confidences from the former client and it is also presumed, but subject to rebuttal, that these confidences were conveyed to the attorney's affiliates; (3) once the presumptions are applied and a decision has been reached as to whether the conflict should result in disqualification, the court may consider other "competing equities" such as the effect of the disqualification on the party that loses its representation.

From what I have seen/read about the case at this point, it seems to me Covington is on the losing end of the first two parts of the analysis, but may have something to say on the last one.

For purposes of Rule 1.9, matters are “substantially related” if there is a “substantial risk that confidential factual information as would normally have been obtained in the prior representation would materially advance the client’s position in the subsequent matter.”  It is possible Covington may want to argue that the two representations were not substantially related, but the disqualification order makes a good case for its conclusion that they are.   And, more importantly, once the court has concluded that representations are substantially related, Covington cannot argue (as it is now trying to do) there there is no evidence that its lawyers have used or disclosed confidential information.  Covington wants to argue that the court "ignored critical elements of the rule" - meaning rule 1.9 about former client conflicts of interest - and that the court erred because it failed to address whether the firm used or disclosed confidential information. 

This argument is weak.  As stated above, once the court concludes the former representation and the current representation are substantially related, it is presumed (irrebuttably) that information was acquired and also - subject to rebuttal - that it was shared.  The firm would have to prove that the confidential information was not and could not have been shared in the past and that it will not be possible to share it in the future by proving the use of timely and effective "institutional mechanisms" (usually called "screens") created for that purpose.

In its notice to appeal, Covington claims the firm "currently" has a screen in place.  However, since the rules require that the screen has to be "timely", a screen that is allegedly in place now may not be sufficient to solve the problem "back then".

The problem is it is not clear when that screen was implemented, since in its order to disqualify the firm the judge concluded that there was no screen in place.  In fact, the judge stated that "Covington admits to not imposing screens or other protections to safeguard 3M’s information. Covington also admits to not taking any measures to prevent Covington lawyers from sharing confidential information with others in the firm." Given these conclusions, applying the two presumption analysis, the court correctly concluded that it must be presumed that Covington received and shared 3M’s confidential information.  If the judge is correct that Covington admitted not having a screen back then, the fact that it has one now is irrelevant.

For these reasons, it seems to me Covington will have a tough time arguing its case.

Covington's better argument, it seems to me, is based on the third part of the test mentioned before.
3M filed its motion to disqualify more than a year into the litigation of the case and claimed that it was not until then that it had noticed the conflict because of a change in its management.  The story is plausible, but not necessarily enough to defeat the argument that a disqualification that far into the litigation would cause an undue burden on the party that all of a sudden loses its representation.

So, bottom line, it seems to me the case will come down to this:  what is more important?,  the fact that Covington seems to have been operating under a conflict or the fact that eliminating the conflict now would cause an undue burden on the party that loses its lawyer.

If it is the former, the order should be affirmed and Covington would be disqualified; if it is the latter, the order should be reversed and Covington would be allowed to continue its representation of the state against its former client.

What will happen next, is anyone's guess.  Stay tuned....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Strong criticism of recent report out of DC hearing committee

Mike Frisch (Georgetown) has strong words about a recent report in Washington DC, which he calls "the worst hearing committee report in DC Bar history."  You need to read the full comment here to get see why.  In a nutshell, the report exonerates four attorneys on charges of conflicts of interest and dishonesty in a case involving the alleged abuse and manipulation of an elderly woman even though the evidence supported the conclusion that the attorneys, in the course of representing the woman's son, purported to represent her as well and caused her to execute a series of documents giving control or complete ownership of her property to him. Professor Frisch is concerned (to say the least) about the consequences of the opinion: it makes it nearly impossible to prosecute lawyer elder abuse and discourages other victims from coming forward.

Comment on allegations against former prosecutor in Texas for concealing evidence

Back in March I posted a comment on a case in Texas in which a judge was under investigation for misconduct when he was a prosecutor.  My original post, which includes a segment from the tv show 60 minutes on the case, is available here.  Today, Professor Jonathan Turley published his own comment on the case here.

WSJ on firms buying lunch for clients using clients' own money

In class I am often asked if a lawyer violates the rule that says lawyers can't provide financial assistance to clients if the lawyer takes a client to lunch and pays the bill.  Well, it turns out that the question may be a non-issue since firms may be charging the clients for those lunches after all...  In a short article today, the Wall Street Journal law blog discusses the issue (here).  It starts:  "Here’s a tip for law firms who want to keep clients happy: Don’t buy them fancy lunches with their own money. . . . [Clients are] fighting over line items such as photocopies and food, and pushing back hard on charges for pricey legal research databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Their position: many of these costs are law firm overhead, and so shouldn’t be passed on to the client in the first place."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Covington and Burling disqualified in case against former client for conflict in violation of Rule 1.9

Back in August I posted a story about the lawsuit filed by 3M Corporation against the law firm Covington & Burling arguing that the law firm violated its duties to 3M when it allegedly dropped 3M in one matter to accept representation of another client (the state of Minnesota) against 3M.  Go here for that original post.

Meanwhile, 3M also filed a motion to disqualify Covington from representing the State of Minnesota in the underlying case and today the court has granted the motion to disqualify.  Interestingly, however, the basis for the ruling is not that Covington violated the "hot potato doctrine" (which penalizes a firm for dropping a client to clear the way to accept the representation of a new client) as argued by 3M.  The court simply held that Covington violated rule 1.9 on successive conflicts of interest.  Either way, 3M has scored a big win.

It remains to be seen what effect the disqualification order will have on the civil claim, but I am sure 3M will try to get some mileage out of the strong language by the judge who concluded that “Covington has exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty to 3M..."

Interestingly, in disqualifying Covington, the judge goes into two different types of analysis used in cases of former client conflicts.

According to Rule 1.9, "[a] lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing."

Thus, the big question is whether the previous representation of 3M was substantially related to the current representation of the state.  If so, Covington would be prevented from continuing to represent the state.  Following the generally accepted analysis in similar cases, the judge stated that matters are “substantially related” if there is a “substantial risk that confidential factual information as would normally have been obtained in the prior representation would materially advance the client’s position in the subsequent matter.”

To address the issue, the judge examined the character and content of the previous representation of 3M and concluded that Covington had represented 3M in the past in matters that were substantially related to the case in which it was now representing the State of Minnesota against 3M.  The judge therefore concluded that "Covington has “switched sides” by representing a client who is now suing its former client" and that "[b]y representing the State, Covington will benefit by contradicting the very positions it had long advocated on 3M’s behalf."  The judge, thus, concluded that "[b]ecause a lawyer may not use any information “relating to” a prior representation to the detriment of a former client, disqualification is necessary where an attorney provided legal services to a former client relative to matters substantially related to the subject matter of the present suit."

Once this conclusion is reached, typically a court would have enough reason to justify disqualifying a firm, unless the firm (and its client) could convince that there are other reasons that show disqualification would be too onerous on the client at that point.  Covington may have an argument along those lines because 3M waited so long to protest its representation of the state. I expect Covington to argue that on appeal.

But the judge did not stop there because the case law in the state of Minnesota appears to be slightly different from that in other states.

It appears that the analysis used by courts in Minnesota combines the previously mentioned analysis related to whether the cases are substantially related with the analysis typically used for cases in which the conflict is created by a lawyer who moves from one firm to a new firm.  In a case like that, there is a presumption that the moving lawyer acquired confidential information about his or her former clients (left behind in the old firm) (the so-called "first presumption") and that he or she will share (or has shared) that information with the new firm (the "second presumption").  In support of its opposition to a motion to disqualify, the new firm can try to rebut either presumption.  If unable to do so, the firm would be disqualified from representing an interest adverse to those of a former client of the new attorney joining the firm.

Using this analysis, the judge also found that Covington should be disqualified. The judge found that the State (and Covington) simply could not rebut the presumption that Covington had received relevant confidential information from 3M nor the presumption that Covington shared that confidential information within the firm because Covington admitted to not imposing screens or other protections to safeguard 3M’s information.

I don't think this second part of the judge's analysis necessarily relevant to the facts of the case (because there was no lawyer moving from one firm to another), but it seems to be part of the analysis used in Minnesota and in the end the result is the same.

As expected, Covington has expressed it disagrees with the court's conclusions.  Timothy Hester, chair of Covington’s management committee stated: “The State of Minnesota has been a client of this firm on environmental matters since 1995.We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling. We believe 3M failed to identify an actual conflict of interest and its attempt to disqualify the firm should in any event be barred because it came 15 months after the case was filed. 3M is a former firm client and the State of Minnesota’s current environmental case against 3M is not substantially related to a food packaging matter that we handled for 3M many years ago.  Our client, the State of Minnesota, will be weighing its options, including an immediate appeal.”

You can read the order in full by going here.  For more on the story go here and here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How not to practice law: Steal money from clients, then argue in your defense that you needed the money!

Here is another installment of the on-going series on how not to practice law.  In this new case, a lawyer was disbarred for, among other things, stealing money from clients.  That's not newsworthy, of course, since that is the typical sanction for misappropriation (although I just posted a story about a case in which the attorney unjustifiably in my opinion, got away with a lesser sanction).  What is interesting about this particular case is the explanation given by the lawyer "in his defense." 

In response to charges of theft of estate funds, the attorney testified that he  used the funds because he needed them for his business operations in difficult times and that it was all due to "the worst financial crisis in our nation's history."   In other words, he claimed he stole the client's money because the economy was bad and he needed the money.  The court said the lawyer's testimony can only be characterized as "a lame attempt to rationalize his theft."  I agree.  If you think that argument is going to help your case, you better look for another line of work.  Oh, wait!, you do need to look for another line of work because you just got disbarred!  

You can read the full opinion here.

Lawyer steals money from clients but does not get disbarred because he had been in the military; I don't get the connection

The Legal Profession blog is reporting on a recent opinion from the Ohio Supreme Court in which an attorney was indefinitely suspended  for  violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct in  his dealings with more than 20 bankruptcy clients including the fact that the attorney accepted fee advances from those clients but deposited the unearned fees in his office operating account and spent the clients’ funds on personal and office  expenses without performing the legal services for which he had been retained. In other words, that he stole client's money.

You would think this is not newsworthy since stealing from clients is essentially the easiest way to get disbarred, right?  But that is the strange thing.  Here, the attorney was not disbarred.  There is a distinction between indefinite suspension (a suspension that can be lifted) and disbarment (which, at least in theory, is permanent).

What made the difference in this case?  In imposing an indefinite suspension rather than permanent disbarment, the court noted as mitigating factors that the attorney had served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years,  expressed sincere remorse and  accepted  full responsibility for his actions, cooperated with disciplinary authorities, and was making ongoing attempts to make restitution to his clients.  You can read the opinion here.

I don't understand this. The lawyer has admitted that he stole money from clients in multiple instances but he doesn't get disbarred (which the court says is the proper sanction for misappropriation) because he is a veteran? What does military service have anything to do with anything? With all due respect to the members of the military all of whom should be admired for their courage, why should military service operate as a mitigating factor and not other kinds of service? What if a lawyer had been a nurse for 20 years before going to law school, or a high school teacher or a firefighter? How do we make the distinction? 

I just don't think past military service is relevant at all.  The lawyer may have served the country admirably for 20 years in the past, but now he was stealing money from clients.  He should have been disbarred.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Judge found guilty of judging a defendant and imposing sentence without trial

Just when you think you have seen (or heard) it all... Here is a report on something I had not heard before, other than at the movies.  Remember that movie The Star Chamber in which Michael Douglas plays a judge who gets together with other judges to decide cases on their own and then impose their own kind of vigilante justice?

Well, here is a report of a case in which the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct accepted a 122 page stipulation that resulted in the resignation of a judge.  Among other things, it was determined that the judge found a defendant guilty without a plea or trial and imposed sentence without giving the defendant an opportunity to contest charges.  I have to say, I don't think I had heard of a judge doing that before. 

Thanks to the Legal Profession blog for the report.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How not to practice law: bring your recreational drugs to court, then drop them in the middle of court in front of a police officer

Lowering the Bar (here) and Prof. Jonathan Turley (here) are reporting today on a story about a New Orleans prosecutor who recently resigned after he dropped some marijuana out of his pocket in the middle of court in front of a police officer. In this case, the incident cost the prosecutor his job.  Should he be disciplined too?  If so, what sanction would you impose? 

These questions raise the issue of whether violating the law, in and of itself, regardless of what the law is, is a punishable offense for professional responsibility purposes.  There has always been some debate as to whether courts are consistent when imposing sanctions for illegal conduct. Often, violations of tax laws are treated leniently, while misappropriation (ie, stealing) violations are dealt with harshly.  DUIs, sexual misconduct, misdemeanor shoplifting and others are somewhere in between.  Part of the analysis has to do with the danger posed to others and whether the "others" involve children or other vulnerable people who are less likely to be able to protect themselves, or whether the illegal conduct involves a so-called "victimless" crime.  (It is debatable whether there is such a thing as a "victimless crime", but that is another story.)

I think there is something to say about taking into account the circumstances and the character of the conduct.  I do disagree with the cases that impose the lightest of sanctions for illegal conduct, but I don't think that all illegal conduct is of the same character or that disbarment is always the proper sanction.  I also think it is important whether the conduct is an isolated incident and whether the person would benefit from counseling or treatment, particularly if it is a case of addiction. 

Go herehere and here for three recent examples of cases on the issue of appropriate sanctions for illegal conduct.  For many more, click on "sanctions" and scroll down.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Maryland Opinion Generally Approves Use Of ‘Daily Deals' like Groupon

Ethics opinions in at least eight states have addressed whether a lawyer's use of a third party company that brokers discounted services to online customers violates rule of professional conduct.  I commented on this issue for the first time about a year ago, when the State Bar Associations of both North Carolina and South Carolina approved of the practice (here where you can find links to the opinions).

Since then, a majority (although not by much) of the ethics committees that have considered the issue has found that the practice is not improper.  In addition to North Carolina (Ethics Op. 2011-10) and South Carolina (Ethics Op. 11-05),  Nebraska (Ethics Op. 12-03) and New York (Ethics Op. 897) have approved the practice.   I commented on (and linked to) the NY opinion last January (here). 

Maryland is now the most recent jurisdiction to have approved it.  The Maryland State Bar Association Committee on Ethic recently issued an opinion holding that the practice is not per se prohibited as long as the lawyer takes steps to ameliorate potential ethical concerns that may be implicated by such arrangements.  See, Maryland Ethics Op. 2012-07.

In contrast, three states have issued opinions disapproving of the practice: Alabama (Ethics Op. 2012-01),
Indiana (Ethics Op. 1 of 2012) and Pennsylvania Ethics Op. 2011-027 (2011).  I reported (with links) on the Indiana opinion here and on the Alabama opinion here.

For more information you can go to the ABA/BNA Lawyers Manual on Professional Responsibility, 28 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 600.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How not to negotiate a settlement agreement

I never saw the TV show "Arrested Development"; a friend just sent me this clip....

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 releases drafts on Choice of Law issues

The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 has released for comment its most recent drafts of proposals.  As explained by one of the commission members over at the Legal Ethics Forum:
The first draft proposal would permit lawyers and clients to agree that their relationship will be governed by a specific jurisdiction’s conflict of interest rules.  The proposal is designed to help lawyers and their clients predict, with more accuracy than Model Rule 8.5(b) can provide, which jurisdiction’s conflict rules would govern the lawyer’s representation of a client.

The second draft proposal would address a choice of law issue that is arising with greater frequency because of inconsistencies, domestically and abroad, regarding the permissibility of non-lawyer ownership of law firms and fee sharing with non-lawyers. The issue is whether a lawyer in a jurisdiction that prohibits such ownership or fee sharing may divide a fee with a lawyer in a different firm in which such ownership or fee sharing occurs and is permitted by the Rules applicable to that firm. The Resolution does not propose any change to the existing prohibition in Model Rule 5.4 against non-lawyer ownership of law firms or the sharing of fees with non-lawyers.  The Resolution addresses only fee divisions between lawyers in separate firms under Model Rule 1.5 when one of the lawyers is in a firm that has nonl-awyer owners or shares fees with non-lawyers, as permitted by the rules of the jurisdiction that govern that lawyer’s firm. The cover memo from the Commission's co-chairs explains that the Commission “has made no decision regarding the nature and substance of any Resolutions on these subjects. The decision to file any such Resolutions will be made at the Commission’s October 2012 meeting.  In the meantime, the Commission requests that any comments on these new drafts be sent to Natalia Vera at by October 19, 2012.

NY approves proposal to require pro bono services as pre-requisite for admission to practice

Back in May I reported Now comes news that starting in 2013, candidates to admission in New York state will be required to show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service as a requirement for admission to the New York state bar. (See here).  The proposal generated the never ending debate on whether pro bono should ever be mandatory.  For posts on some of the reaction to the proposal go here and here

Today, the proposal became law. Starting in 2015, aspiring lawyers in NY will first have to complete 50 hours of free legal service in order to practice law in the state. The new rule is the first of its kind in the country.  For more on the story go the Wall Street Journal law blog, Legal Ethics Forum and PR: a contemporary approach blog all of which have even more links.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How not to practice law: hide your assets in a bankruptcy case by transferring them to a friend

The Illinois Review Board has proposed a suspension of two years of an attorney who concealed assets in a bankruptcy by transferring the assets to his friend and law partner.  The Legal Profession blog has the story here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How not to practice law: post photos of your client's undies on Facebook and make fun of your client and his family in the process

Why is it that so many people are so stupid about how they use Facebook?  What is it about Facebook that makes some people do stupid things?  Here is a story about a lawyer who caused a mistrial, lost a client and got fired all for posting a photo on Facebook.  Here is the first paragraph of the story on the Miami Herald: 
A Miami judge declared a mistrial in a murder case Wednesday after a defense lawyer posted a photo of her client’s leopard-print underwear on Facebook.  The defendant [was] accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death in Hialeah in 2010. [The defendant's] family brought him a bag of fresh clothes to wear during trial. When Miami-Dade corrections officers lifted up the pieces for a routine inspection, [the defendant's] public defender . . .  snapped a photo of [her client’s] briefs with her cellphone, witnesses said. While on a break, the 31-year-old lawyer posted the photo on her personal Facebook page with a caption suggesting the client’s family believed the underwear was “proper attire for trial.”
You can read the full story here and more on the story in the ABA  The attorney was fired immediately after the court found out about the photo.  Her supervisor, Public Defender Carlos Martinez, is quoted in the Miami Herald story explaining the decision as follows:  "Clients are entitled to lawyers’ loyalty and respect. When a lawyer broadcasts disparaging and humiliating words and pictures, it undermines the basic client relationship and it gives the appearance that he is not receiving a fair trial.”  I couldn't agree more.
ead more here:

Read more here:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Prosecutor in OJ Simpson case accuses defense lawyer of tampering with evidence

Almost 17 years after the verdict in the OJ Simpson case, former prosecutor in the case Christopher Darden said he believed defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, who died in 2005, tampered with the evidence.  Specifically he said he thought Cochran damaged a glove which allowed him to later use the now famous phrase "if it does not fit, you must acquit."  The allegation has generated some national attention, including a debate in the Legal Ethics Forum, which has links to articles in Reuters, the Los Angeles Times and Slate.  The ABA Journal also has a short piece (with more links) on the story here.  The debate at the Legal Ethics Forum is about whether, and at what point, would the prosecutor have the duty to report another attorney's misconduct.  If he had enough information and did not report, then he (the prosecutor) engaged in misconduct.  If he does not have enough information, then is it improper to make the claim?  Go here to see the debate.

Charges filed against West Virginia judge

Back in July I posted a video (apparently a big hit on You Tube) in which a judge totally loses control during a divorce hearing and starts yelling at one of the parties.  (See here.)  After the story got some national attention, the West Virginia Supreme Court announced that no charges would be filed against the judge in the case at least in part because "the judge is embarrassed and certainly contrite about his outburst."    See here. Today, however, Professor Jonathan Turley, who has been following the story closely since the beginning, is reporting that things have changed.  The judge now faces five charges from the Judicial Investigation Commission, including some based on additional videos showing abusive treatment of other litigants.  It turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that the conduct displayed in the video released in July was not an isolated instance.  You can read Prof. Turley's latest comment here.  The ABA Journal has more on the story here.

ABA Commission 20/20 releases proposals on foreign lawyers

The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 has released for comment, along with a Cover Memo from Co-Chairs Jamie S. Gorelick and Michael Traynor, revised drafts relating to inbound foreign lawyers.
The first two revised drafts describe possible amendments to ABA Model Rule 5.5 and to the ABA Model Rule for Registration of In-House Counsel. The third relates to the ABA Model Rule on Pro Hac Vice Admission.  Comments will assist the Commission in its consideration of these issues. You can e-mail your comments by October 12, 2012, to Senior Research Paralegal Natalia Vera at   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Justice Department defends problematic interpretation of prosecutors' duty in case before DC disciplinary authorities

The Blog of The Legal Times is reporting (here) on an interesting story that involves a clash between the U.S. Justice Department and the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel over a former federal prosecutor's alleged ethics transgression.  At issue is the proper interpretation of the District of Columbia's version of Rule 3.8 on "special responsibilities of prosecutors."  The rule is mostly equivalent to the ABA Model Rule with one significant difference.

Both rules state that prosecutors have a duty to timely disclose to the defense "all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense."  This has been interpreted to mean that the duty under the rules of professional conduct is broader than the duty imposed by substantive law.  ABA Formal Opinion 09-454 clearly explains that the duty under rule 3.8 is more extensive than the federal constitutional obligation.  In particular, Rule 3.8 is not limited to material evidence nor is it limited to information that is likely to lead to an acquittal.

The problem is that the DC version of the rule added a sentence to its comment that says that the rule  "is not intended either to restrict or to expand the obligations of prosecutors derived from the United States Constitution, federal or District of Columbia statutes and court rules of procedure."

Thus, even though the actual language of both rules is the same, the extent of the duty described has been interpreted differently.  The Dept of Justice wants the DC rule to be read to impose a duty to disclose information only if the information is material.  The DoJ's brief in the case - In the Matter of Kline - is available here.  The brief of the office of Bar Counsel is available here.

This is a tough one because the DC rule's comment says what it says and it is pretty clear.  You can make the argument that it is pretty clear the drafters of the rule wanted it to be interpreted differently than the drafters of the ABA model rules.  The problem is that that would be a bad interpretation.  I happen to agree with the ABA's view on this.  The ethical duty should be broader; it should not be limited by materiality.  Yet, it seems the authorities in DC thought otherwise when they drafted their version of the rules.  It will be interesting to see how this issue is resolved.  I hope DC decides to amend the comment and join the ABA in its approach to the prosecutor's duty.

For more on the story, go to the Blog of the Legal Times which has more details and links to relevant documents in the case.

How not to practice law: get drunk, drive, crash your car into a pole then try to bribe a police officer with a personal check with your name on it

Here is another story worthy of our continuing series on bizarre, dumb or unbelievable conduct deserving of sanctions.  In this particular case, the attorney testified that on the date of the incident, he got drunk during lunch and later drove his car into a telephone pole.  He was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police vehicle, and taken to a police station where he allegedly attempted to bribe a police officer with a personal check.  The panel that considered the case noted that "an attorney who would offer to bribe a police officer by means of a personal check would have to have had his judgment impaired by something." The case is called In the Matter of Unni Krishnan and the opinion is available here.

Thanks to the Legal Profession blog for the information and link.

You always risk disbarment

One of the first important lessons I always try to get my students to learn is that given the fact that the rules don't provide for sanctions, and the fact that there is so much inconsistency when it comes to sanctions, no matter what the conduct is "you always risk disbarment."  To illustrate this, I assign In re Lamberis, 443 N.E.2d 549 (Ill. 1982), in which the hearing board, the review board, the administrator of the disciplinary system, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court and a couple of dissenting judges all proposed different sanctions for the conduct, which wasn't even in the context of the practice of law.  (The suggested sanctions were censure, suspension for 3 months, suspension for 6 months and disbarment). 

In any case, here is a new case that can also be used to remind everyone that you always risk disbarment.  The Legal Profession blog is reporting that the Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney who withdrew an amount of money from his attorney trust account resulting in an overdraft of $5.24.

Is it really worth it to risk disbarment for $5 and change...?  I don't think so.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How not to practice law: do everything wrong when leaving your firm

Here is a new installment in our running list on how not to practice law:  the Florida Supreme Court has suspended  two attorneys for misconduct in connection with their departure as employees of a law firm.  In the process of preparing to leave the firm, the attorneys solicited firm clients, made misrepresentations to the firm and clients, copied files without authorization and more.  The court found the use of the files amounted to criminal theft, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The case is called Florida Bar v. William Henry Winters.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Judge rejects government's request to change rules on attorney/client communications at Guantanamo

A few days ago I reported that the US District Court for the District of Columbia held a hearing regarding a challenge to new restrictions on lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. The new restrictions would require in some cases that a lawyer sign a "memorandum of understanding" to continue to be able to meet with a client, making any meetings or communications with a client "subject to the authority and discretion" of the Guantanamo commanding officer.  My original post, which has links to the memorandum and other sources, is available here.

Yesterday, however, in what has been called "a strong rebuke against the government," the judge in the case refused to change the rules that have long governed communication and meetings between Guantanamo Bay detainees and their lawyers.  The judge's opinion is available here.  He agreed with the detainees' counsel, calling the government's effort to modify existing rules an "illegitimate exercise of Executive power."

For more on the story go to the Blog of the Legal Times and the SCotUS blog.

UPDATE 1:22 p.m.: For more go to the Jurist, The New York Times and How Appealing, which has links to eigth different articles on this. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last chance to nominate your favorite blogs for the ABA's list of the best legal blogs of the year

Today is the last day to nominate your favorite blogs for the ABA Journal 's annual 100 best legal blogs list ("Blawg 100"). If you have enjoyed reading my blog, please consider voting for it by going here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Article on how disasters sometimes bring out the worst in lawyers

Richard Zitrin, professor of legal ethics at UC Hastings, has published an article describing how sometimes disastrous accidents make the legal profession look bad.  According to the old saying, when a disaster strikes the first two organized groups to show up are the press and the lawyers.  This proved to be true last month, when within two days of the Aug. 6 Chevron refinery fire that inundated Richmond with clouds of black smoke, a swarm of lawyers and their representatives descended on the city streets.

The problem is that while some of those lawyers were acting unethically, others were not and the authorities enforcing the law did not seem to understand the difference.   In the end, it is the profession in general that ends up looking bad.  Go here to read the full article

Friday, August 31, 2012

Illinois Supreme Court rules attorney can't serve as attorney and guardian at litem in delinquency proceedings at the same time

Back in 2010 I posted a comment criticizing the practice of appointing attorneys for juveniles in delinquency proceedings to serve simultaneously as guardians ad litem and urging the Illinois Supreme Court to grant review in a case that challenged it. I stated that the way courts justified the practice "displays a complete lack of understanding of the very notion of the attorney-client relationship. The notion that some attorneys are attempting to serve as guardians at litem and advocates for the minors at the same time is inconceivable to me. The two roles are, by definition, almost always incompatible."  Later I wrote a law review article on the subject (available here) in which I made a long argument in support of my position.

The Court did not grant the appeal in the case I wrote about in 2010, but some time later, it did grant the appeal in another case - In Re Austin M. - which raised the same issue.

I was glad the Court would be addressing the question, but I was not too optimistic about the possible result.  I thought the Court would continue to repeat the erroneous analysis that courts in Illinois had followed for many years.

Today I am very happy to report that the Illinois Supreme Court just released its decision in In Re Austin M. holding that an attorney may not assume the roles of advocate for a minor and guardian at litem simultaneously, finding that such “hybrid representation” constitutes a per se conflict of interest.  That is definitely the correct decision!

The opinion is available here.  For more on the case go to the Juvenile Law Center blog and here.

The opinion is long, but here are some of the most important passages:
    Austin’s initial claim on appeal is that the legal representation he received at his delinquency trial amounted to a denial of his right to counsel . . .  More specifically, Austin contends that, as a minor tried for a criminal offense in a delinquency proceeding, he had the right to a defense attorney, that is, an attorney who gives his client his undivided loyalty, who zealously safeguards his client’s rights and confidences, and who acts in accordance with his client’s wishes. Austin asserts that he was deprived of this type of counsel because his attorney. . . performed less as a defense attorney and more as a guardian ad litem (GAL).

    Austin contends that a GAL, unlike a defense attorney, owes a duty to the court and to society and may disregard a minor client’s wishes if the GAL believes it is in the minor’s best interests. . . . Further, Austin contends that his attorney’s “hybrid representation” deprived him of his statutory and constitutional right to counsel and constitutes a per se conflict of interest requiring reversal of his adjudication.

    The State asks us to reject this claim. . . . The State also maintains that even if Austin’s attorney did, in fact, function as both counsel and GAL at Austin’s delinquency trial, it is of no moment because this type of dual representation does not constitute a per se conflict of interest. According to the State, for hybrid representation to be reversible error, there must be evidence of an actual conflict of interest resulting from the hybrid representation.  Further, the State argues that nothing in the record indicates that Austin’s attorney’s performance was compromised in any way due to an actual conflict of interest. . . .

    Austin’s claim requires us to decide . . . whether “hybrid representation” is inconsistent with the statutorily and constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel afforded minors in delinquency proceedings . . .

   . . . .
    . . . [A] minor in a delinquency proceeding has a non-waivable right to be represented by a defense attorney. There is no statutory exception which would permit representation by a GAL—even one who is also an attorney at law.

    Minors in delinquency proceedings also have a constitutional right to counsel. . . .

    . . . .

    It is clear to us that a juvenile’s right to counsel in a delinquency proceeding is firmly anchored in both due process and our statutory scheme. . . .

    Given the above, the type of “counsel” which due process and our Juvenile Court Act require to be afforded juveniles in delinquency proceedings is that of defense counsel, that is, counsel which can only be provided by an attorney whose singular loyalty is to the defense of the juvenile. . . .

    . . . .

    In a delinquency proceeding, when counsel attempts to perform the role of GAL as well as defense attorney, the risk that counsel will render ineffective assistance or that an actual conflict of interest will arise is substantial. . . .

    . . . [W]hen a guardian ad litem is appointed in a delinquency case, it is generally because there is no interested parent or legal guardian to represent the child’s best interests. In these situations, the GAL must act in the role of a concerned parent, which is often in opposition to the position of defense counsel. . . .Further, a GAL—unlike a defense attorney—owes a duty to the court and to society. A guardian ad litem need not zealously pursue acquittal if he does not believe acquittal would be in the best interests of the minor or society.

    When counsel attempts to fulfill the role of GAL as well as defense counsel, the risk that the minor’s constitutional and statutory right to counsel will be diluted, if not denied altogether, is too great. . . . We conclude, therefore, that the interests of justice are best served by finding a per se conflict when minor’s counsel in a delinquency proceeding simultaneously functions as both defense counsel and guardian ad litem.
UPDATE:  I later wrote a law review article reviewing the opinion.  It is available here.

Comment on the split among courts on what happens when attorneys can't afford to pay sanctions

Here is a link to a short article on the fact that federal appellate courts are split over whether money sanctions issued against an attorney can be reduced when he cannot afford to pay.