ARDC Hearing Board Recommends 90-day suspension for Revealing Confidences and Seeking Client’s Agreement Not to Make Disciplinary Complaint

The case is In re Laura Lee Robinson, 2016 PR 000126.

The facts are reported as follows:

“In May 2015, Respondent began representing John Quincy Adams IV in some criminal and traffic matters. She and Adams entered into a retainer agreement, which she prepared and presented to him and which provided, in part:
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.
(Hearing Bd. Report at 4 (citing Admin. Ex. 1).)
Respondent represented Adams until March 2016. On March 2, Adams filed with the court a handwritten motion stating that he would like to fire Respondent and hire different counsel. That same night, Respondent and Adams had a phone conversation. Respondent testified that he told her he had made up his mind to fire her, that he was going to get her in trouble, and that he had filed a complaint against her. He did not tell her that he had already filed a motion to dismiss her as his counsel.
Following their phone conversation, Respondent drafted a letter to Adams in which she referred to his “horrible criminal past” and a “violent criminal past;” stated that he has been “arrested and/or convicted in Missouri at least fourteen times;” stated that he “wanted to bribe the court in some manner;” and called him a “paranoid ingrate and miserable con man who
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tries to blame everyone else but yourself for YOUR misdeeds TO WHICH YOU CONFESSED.” (Hearing Bd. Report at 11 (emphasis in original).)
A hearing on Adam’s motion was set for March 10, and notice of the hearing was sent to Respondent on March 3. On March 9, Respondent filed an answer to Adam’s motion with the Circuit Court of Monroe County, and attached the above-quoted letter to her answer. It thus became a matter of public record.
Respondent testified at her hearing that she was “in a blur” and “upset” when she wrote the letter because of Adams’ rant during their conversation. She further testified that she included the letter with her filed answer out of “just frustration,” because she was “enraged” and in a “rage of emotion,” and “reacted on ? [her] own personal hurt.” She acknowledged that the letter contained confidential information that she should not have disclosed without her client’s consent; that the filing of the letter was “wrong;” and that she “was not justified” in filing it. (Hearing Bd. Report at 17.)”
The ARDC Hearing Board and the Review Board ordered a 90-day suspension of the attorney.
Rule 8.4(h) provides that “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “
enter 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.”

In my opinion, there is no doubt that the lawyer violated that rule by inserting the provision in her engagement letter.
Rule 1.6(a) provides that: “ (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) or required by paragraph (c).

Again, revealing the draft letter in which the lawyer noted that the client had “confessed” was obviously (in my opinion) evealing confidential information to the detriment of the client.

The Board also found that the respondent did not fully accept responsibility for her actions.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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