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
PAGE 3:
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.

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.

Colorado Suspends Lawyer for 18 Months For Publicly Shaming Former Clients On the Internet

I can’t say this enough: don’t criticize former clients on the internet or social media. It won’t help you collect your fee bill and it will guarantee discipline from the regulatory body in your state. This social media fiasco was described in a recent case from Colorado.

This case is captioned People v. James C. Underhill, Jr., 15 PDJ 040 (Colorado).

As one might imagine this disaster began with a family law matter in which the lawyer was hired to represent the husband in a post-decree dispute. A fee dispute arose and the clients terminated Underhill.

The opinion states: “The couple [client and his new wife] then posted complaints about Underhill on two websites. He responded with internet postings that publicly shamed the couple by disclosing highly sensitive and confidential information gleaned from attorney-client discussions, in contravention of Colo. RPC 1.6(a) (a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client) and Colo RPC 1.9(c)(2) (a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a former client).

“Underhill then sued the couple for defamation. Although he knew the couple had retained counsel, Underhill communicated with them ex parte on several occasions, even though their counsel repeatedly implored him not to do so. Through this conduct, Underhill violated Colo. RPC 4.2 (a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by counsel in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the opposing counsel). When the lawsuit was dismissed, Underhill brought a second defamation action in a different court, alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings. Underhill thereby violated Colo. RPC 3.1 (a lawyer shall not bring a proceeding unless there is a basis in fact for doing so that is not frivolous) and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that prejudices the administration of justice).”

The court ordered an 18-month suspension to be added to a prior suspension.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.