Saturday, May 7, 2016

Ohio's Board on Professional Conduct issues opinion on duty to report misconduct, which is different under Ohio rules

Back in February I wrote a comment on the first ethics opinion of the year by the Ohio Board on Professional Conduct in which I argued the opinion was based on faulty analysis.  As I looked more into the issue, I realized the problem was not with the opinion but with the text of the Ohio rules which is different than that of the Model Rules.  I later wrote an article about it.

Just about a month ago, the Board issued its second opinion of the year and it again illustrates that another of Ohio's rules is different from the text adopted in most jurisdictions.  The opinion (available here) attempts to clarify an attorney's duty to report misconduct under rule 8.3.

Ohio's version of Rule 8.3 states (in relevant part) that "A lawyer who possesses unprivileged knowledge of a violation of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a question as to any lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform a disciplinary authority empowered to investigate or act upon such a violation."

So here is my first question:  what is "unprivileged knowledge"?  Knowledge can't be privileged or unprivileged.  What is privileged is the information about which one has knowledge.  But that's just a matter of language.  It seems to me it is clear that what the rule means to say is "a lawyer who has knowledge of privileged information.."

The Board appears to read the text this way too since it states in the opinion that in order to determine if there is a duty to disclose lawyers should consult rule 1.6 to determine whether information is privileged or unprivileged.

Yet, this statement does not make much sense since Rule 1.6 does not address that question.  Rule 1.6 defines the duty of confidentiality, not the extent of the privilege, which is a matter of the law of evidence.  The Board seems to confuse the important distinction between confidentiality and privilege.

For this reason, it is not entirely clear that the Board realizes that, as it is drafted, Ohio's Rule 8.3 (on reporting misconduct) requires attorneys to disclose misconduct even if the misconduct is discovered as a result of a confidential communication as long as the information is not privileged.

Model Rule 8.3 states that a lawyer is not obligated to disclose misconduct if it would require disclosure of confidential information (protected under MR 1.6).  In contrast, in Ohio a lawyer is obligated to disclose the misconduct even if doing so would require disclosure of information protected by the duty of confidentiality under Rule 1.6, as long as the information is not privileged.

In addition, the Rule in Ohio applies if the information raises a question as to a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice, while according to the Model Rules, the duty to report only applies if the information raises a substantial question as to those same elements.

In other words, for these reasons, the duty to disclose misconduct is much broader in Ohio than in other jurisdictions that have adopted the language of the Model Rules.

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