The Supreme Court of Florida recently decided The Florida Bar v. Derek Vashon James, NO. SC20-128 (November 18, 2021). During a remote deposition, the attorney for one of the parties in a worker’s compensation proceeding coached the witness by sending text messages to the witness with suggested answers to questions. Opposing counsel noticed that the witness was reading text messages and later received some of the messages when they were inadvertently sent to her. She filed a motion for a protective order. “The judge found that the text messages were sent during the deposition, not during a break in the questioning, and that they were not protected by attorney-client privilege, contrary to Jame’s claims.”
The disciplinary referee “found that James’s texts to [the witness] while she was being questioned, telling her what to say, how to answer, to avoid providing certain information, to remember a deposition but not discuss certain checks, and to not give an absolute answer were dishonest.” p. 5. “The referee found the following aggravating factors were present: (1) dishonest or selfish motive; (2) refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of the conduct; and (3) substantial experience in the practice of law. In mitigation, the referee found (1) the absence of a prior disciplinary record; (2) full and free disclosure to the Bar or cooperative attitude toward the proceedings; and (3) good character or reputation.”
The referee found that the attorney had violated Rule 3.4(a) (“a lawyer must not … unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or otherwise unlawfully alter, destroy, or conceal a document….”). The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed that finding. The Supreme Court reversed the referee’s finding that the attorney had not violated Rule 8.4(d) (“a lawyer shall not engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice….”). The Supreme Court of Florida found that the behavior of the attorney warranted a ninety-one-day suspension.