Sunday, March 7, 2021

How not to practice law: ask your paralegal to lie for you to cover your mistakes, and then fire the paralegal when they refuse

Here is a little piece of advice: don’t ask your paralegal to lie for you, particularly to cover your mistakes.  

Common sense, right? Apparently not for everyone.  Here is the story of a case called Sieranski v. TJC Esq, decided a few days ago by the Appellate Court of Connecticut.  The case involved a complaint for wrongful termination filed by a paralegal against her lawyer boss.  In the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that after the attorney she worked realized that he had missed the deadline to appeal an arbitrator's decision on a case, the lawyer asked the plaintiff to prepare an affidavit stating that he had never received the arbitrator's decision.  This was a lie, and the plaintiff refused to notarize the document because she knew it was false.  The lawyer then fired the paralegal arguing that she “was not a good fit” for the office.  I suppose that if lying is a job requirement, refusing to lie is, indeed, a sign that you are not a good fit for the job.

The paralegal sued and, not surprisingly, the court found that the alleged facts are sufficient to support a finding that the plaintiff's employment was terminated because she refused to assist the defendant in misleading the court and others involved in the subject litigation. 

The question for us now is whether the lawyer should be disciplined.  In my opinion, the answer is yes.  I don’t know the rules in the specific jurisdiction, but using the Model Rules as a guide, I would say that the conduct violates several sections of Rule 8.4.  For example, the conduct constitutes an attempt to violate the rules “through the acts of another” in violation of Rule 8.4(a).  It also constitutes conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(c), and conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(d).   

Thanks to Roy Simon for alerting me to this new case!

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