A Really Bad Idea – Trying To Limit A Client’s Ability to Contact the ARDC

BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD:

‘via Blog this’

This is a complaint filed by the ARDC against an Illinois lawyer. Obviously, at this stage none of the facts have been proven. There has been no hearing and no answer has been filed by the lawyer.

Illinois Rule 8.4(h) prohibits a lawyer from “(h) enter[ing] into an agreement with a client or former client limiting or purporting to limit the right of the client or former client to file or pursue any complaint before the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.” The ARDC charged a lawyer with violating that provision because she included a clause in her engagement letter which stated: “”Client agrees to make all matters of said representation confidential between client(s), his/her agents, assigns and principals and to refrain from reporting any phase of said representation to any external agency including but not limited, to the Missouri Bar, ARDC etc.”

This is a rare occurrence. Most lawyers know that they cannot attempt to require a client to forgo the right to report misconduct. Should a lawyer include such a provision in an engagement letter, enforcement is virtually guaranteed.

But there are more allegations of misconduct. The client, a criminal defendant, filed a motion with the court to terminate the attorney. The respondent, unfortunately, responded to the client’s request in an angry fashion that caused the ARDC to pursue further charges. The complaint alleges:

On or about March 2, 2016, Adams wrote to the Monroe County Circuit Court and indicated that he wished to terminate Respondent as his attorney and hire new counsel in cases 2015 CF 52 et. al. The court treated Adams’ letter as a “Motion to Dismiss Counsel”.

4. On or about March 9, 2016, Respondent filed, as a matter of public record, an “Answer” to Adams’ Motion to Dismiss Counsel in cases 2015 CF 52 et. al. Respondent’s “Answer” consisted of a two-page letter, addressed to Adams and also copied to the ARDC. The letter is attached as Exhibit 1.

5. In the letter, Respondent stated inter alia:

that Adams had a “horrible criminal past” and a “violent criminal past”;

that Adams had been “arrested and/or convicted in Missouri at least fourteen times”;

that Adams “wanted to bribe the court in some manner”;

that Adams was a “paranoid ingrate and miserable con man who tries to blame everyone else but yourself for YOUR misdeeds TO WHICH YOU CONFESSED” (emphases in original);

that Adams was in “constant breach of the “Non-Disclosure” provisions of your contract with me”.

The ARDC alleged that the respondent’s letter improperly revealed confidential information without obtaining the client’s informed consent and alleged that the conduct violatedRule 1.6(a).

This is a rare case that was likely made far worse by the lawyer’s imprudent letter to the court and the ARDC revealing confidential information about the client.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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