Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How not to practice law: try to blackmail your opponents to get what you want

Blackmail is not a form of zealous advocacy. This is a simple principle apparently too difficult to understand for an attorney in Nebraska who was recently suspended for 120 days for attempting to blackmail a prosecutor to get the charges against his client dismissed. Interestingly, this is an attorney who had already been disciplined on two prior occasions - both for lying to the court.

As the Legal Profession Blog reports, the attorney wrote a letter to a prosecutor claiming that the newly-elected county attorney was in violation of the same law the attorney's client was accused of. The letter stated that if the charges were not dropped the attorney would file a motion requesting an investigation of the county attorney and included a draft of the motion. Finally, the attorney then stated that if the charges against his client were dismissed "Our lips, of course, are forever sealed."

The opinion is available here.

I have an additional comment on this case: is the sanction appropriate? I think this case is another example of the problem of an ad-hoc system of sanctions. Here is an attorney who has been disciplined twice already, who has demonstrated a pattern of conduct and disrespect for the court, his oath and the system. This is his third disciplinary case -- his second suspension. I don't understand why he his allowed to continue to practice law.

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