IN THE MATTER OF SKINNER, Ga: Supreme Court 2014 – Google Scholar:
This is a case from July 2014 that I missed, in which a lawyer was reprimanded by the Georgia Supreme Court for disclosing confidential information after a client posted negative online reviews about the lawyer. The lawyer was retained to handle an uncontested divorce. The client made complaints that her case was not handled properly. The client posted critical online reviews about the lawyer.
The court explains:
“In his report, the special master found that a client retained Skinner in July 2009 to represent her in an uncontested divorce, and she paid Skinner $900, including $150 for the filing fee. For six weeks, the client did not hear anything from Skinner, and after multiple attempts to contact Skinner, the client finally was able to reach Skinner again in October 2009. At that point, Skinner informed the client that Skinner had lost the paperwork that the client had given to Skinner in July. Skinner and the client then met again, and Skinner finally began to draft pleadings for the divorce. The initial drafts of the pleadings had multiple errors, and Skinner and the client exchanged several drafts and communicated by e-mail about the status of the case in October and early November 2009. Those communications concluded by mid-November, and Skinner and the client had no more communications until March 18, 2010, when the client reported to Skinner that her husband would not sign the divorce papers without changes. In April 2010, both the client and her husband signed the papers.
A disagreement developed about the fees and expenses of the divorce. Skinner asked the client for an additional $185 for certain travel expenses and the filing fee. In April and early May 2010, Skinner and the client exchanged several e-mails about the request for additional money. Then, on May 18, the client informed Skinner that she had hired another lawyer to complete her divorce, and she asked Skinner to deliver her file to new counsel and to refund $750. Skinner replied that she would not release the file unless she were paid. Although Skinner eventually refunded $650 to the client, Skinner never delivered the file to new counsel, contending that it only contained her “work product.” New counsel completed the divorce within three months of her engagement.
Around this time, the client posted negative reviews of Skinner on three consumer Internet pages. When Skinner learned of the negative reviews, she posted a response on the Internet, a response that contained personal and confidential information about her former client that Skinner had obtained in the course of her representation of the client. In particular, Skinner identified the client by name, identified the employer of the client, stated how much the client had paid Skinner, identified the county in which the divorce had been filed, and stated that the client had a boyfriend. The client filed a grievance against Skinner, and in response to the grievance, Skinner said in August 2011 that she would remove her posting from the Internet. It was not removed, however, until February 2012.”
Comment: Don’t respond to any online postings with any information at all. Its not worth it. Its best to think clearly and protect the client.
That being said, the Court did not discuss or analyze whether the information that was disclosed was already public. It would appear that some of the information, such as the name of the employer and the County where the divorce was pending was not confidential information. The lack of analysis is unfortunate.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.