An attorney may disclose to the court only as much as is reasonably necessary to demonstrate her need to withdraw, and ordinarily it will be sufficient to say only words to the effect that ethical considerations require withdrawal or that there has been an irreconcilable breakdown in the attorney - client relationship. In attempting to demonstrate to the court her need to withdraw, an attorney may not disclose confidential communications with the client, either in open court or in camera. To the extent the court orders an attorney to disclose confidential information, the attorney faces a dilemma in that she may not be able to comply with both the duty to maintain client confidences and the duty to obey court orders. Once an attorney has exhausted reasonable avenues of appeal or other further review of such an order, the attorney must evaluate for herself the relevant legal authorities and the particular circumstances, including the potential prejudice to the client, and reach her own conclusion on how to proceed. Although this Committee cannot categorically opine on whether or not it is acceptable to disclose client confidences even when faced with an order compelling disclosure, this Committee does opine that, whatever choice the attorney makes, she must take reasonable steps to minimize the impact of that choice on the client.
Friday, February 27, 2015
California Bar issues opinion on whether attorney can refuse to disclose confidential information in support of motion to withdraw from representation
The California bar's ethics committee recently issued an opinion (Formal Op. 2015-192) attempting to clarify whether an attorney seeking to withdraw from a litigation for ethical reasons might have grounds for resisting a court order that would require the lawyer to disclose client confidences to a judge who wants more information before ruling on the motion. Although it admits there is no on-point guidance in California, the committee urged lawyers not to reveal confidential information to support their withdrawal motion. If the judge insists, the committee said, there is no clear legal or ethical authority in California that either permits or forbids an attorney to comply with the court's directive. You can read the opinion here. The summary reads as follows: