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
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.

ARDC Hearing Board Recommends 30-day (Stayed) Suspension for Agreement Not to contact ARDC

IRPC 8.4(h) prohibits a lawyer from making any agreement with a client that the client not contact the ARDC.  The lawyer admitted to violating the rule. The Panel found as follows: “

Based upon the above, we find the Administrator proved by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent entered 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 violation of Rule 8.4(h) of the Illinois Rules Professional Conduct (2010).”

The ARDC also charged the lawyer with wrongfully revealing information concerning the representation of a client without the client’s consent. The lawyer attached a confidential letter to a client to a pleading. The allegations are as follows:

Respondent testified that she began representing John Quincy Adams IV in May 2015, for charges against him in Monroe County, Illinois. Adams was charged with unlawful possession of less than 5 grams of methamphetamine, driving under the influence, and illegal transportation of alcohol. She also filed a replevin action on his behalf for the return of money seized from him at the time of his arrest (2015 MR 23). The replevin was successful and the money was refunded to Adams. (Tr. 50, 98, 101; Adm. Ex. 2 at 6).
Respondent said she did a “lot of work” for Adams and indicated she represented him well. (Tr. 52). Her replevin motion resulted in the return of the money seized from Adams at the time of his arrest. (Tr. 98, 101). She also prepared and filed a motion to suppress on behalf of Adams. While preparing the motion to suppress, she spoke with Adams for “numerous hours.” (Tr. 101-102 ). The motion to suppress was ultimately withdrawn with the consent of Adams. (Adm. Ex. 2 at 22, 73).
At Adams’ request, Respondent also filed a motion for election by Adams for an evaluation and drug treatment by TASC as an alternative to incarceration. (Tr. 56, 103; Adm. Ex. 2 at 28). On February 24, 2016, the judge ordered Adams to undergo a TASC evaluation to determine if he was eligible for the drug treatment. (Tr. 56, 63, 104; Adm. Ex. 2 at 30). Upon receiving the judge’s order, Respondent immediately informed Adams. Adams replied that the result was “great.” (Tr. 104).
Respondent and Adams appeared in court on March 2, 2016. At that time, the judge asked Adams why he had not complied with the judge’s order to appear for the evaluation. As a result of Adams’ failure to appear for the evaluation, the judge entered an order for Adams to
appear on April 14, 2016, for a plea. (Adm. Ex. 2 at 31). Respondent was concerned about this result, but still believed it was possible for Adams to get probation. (Tr. 56, 57, 105-106). There was “no discord” between her and Adams at any time during the court proceeding or as they were leaving the court house, and no indication Adams was considering firing her as his attorney. (Tr. 85, 105).
Respondent said that prior to the evening of March 2, 2016, Adams was “nothing but pleasant” to her. (Tr. 98). However, on the evening of March 2, 2016, Respondent and Adams had a telephone conversation. During their conversation, Adams was “glib,” engaged in a “rant,” and told her he had made up his mind to fire her. Adams told her he was going to get her in trouble and that he had filed a complaint against her. She could hear people laughing in the background. (Tr. 65, 80, 86-88).
On March 2, 2016, following her telephone conversation with Adams, Respondent prepared a letter, which is the subject of the disciplinary Complaint. (Tr. 83, 88; Adm. Ex. 2 at 37-38). She said she was “in a blur” and “upset” because of the rant by Adams during the telephone conversation. Her letter contains various accusations against Adams. She was particularly upset because Adams had insisted she file the motion for treatment, she prepared and filed the motion, and then Adams failed to appear for evaluation after the motion was granted. She added that such motions are “not easily sought” and “not easily rendered.” She also felt that the “trail that I gave Mr. Adams was enough for him to get probation.” She mailed the letter to Adams the following day. (Tr. 56-57, 61, 109).
Respondent received a notice that the court had set a hearing on March 10, 2016, for Adams’ motion to dismiss counsel. (Adm. Ex 2 at 33). However, Respondent did not receive a copy of the handwritten motion to dismiss her that was filed by Adams. (Adm. Ex. 2 at 32). In
fact, Respondent said she did not see Adams’ handwritten motion until “today,” that is the day she testified in this disciplinary matter. (Tr. 60-61, 90). Even though she had not read Adams’ handwritten motion, Respondent prepared an answer to the motion to dismiss counsel, which was filed with the court on March 9, 2016. (Adm. Ex. 2 at 36). She attached to her answer the letter she had prepared and previously sent to Adams. (Adm. Ex. 2 at 37-38).
Respondent explained that she filed the letter “disclosing stuff” about Adams out of “just frustration” and that “I don’t even talk like that.” (Tr. 110). She further explained that she filed the letter because she was “enraged,” and in a “rage of emotion” (Tr. 62, 66, 109). One of things she was upset about was that Adams said he was “going to get me in trouble” and “wanted to ruin me.” (Tr. 65, 69). She was also upset because Adams had fired her after she had “sacrificed my other cases in Monroe County and in Illinois for Mr. Adams.” (Tr. 69-70). She further explained that she “reacted on, I guess, my own personal hurt.” (Tr. 72).
Respondent acknowledged that the letter she filed with the court (Adm. Ex. 2 at 37-38) contains confidential information that may not be disclosed without her client’s consent. (Tr. 67). She also acknowledged that her filing of the letter was “wrong” and that she “was not justified” in filing it. (Tr. 62, 67, 70). Further, Respondent said “I wrote that terrible letter that I’m apologizing for.” (Tr. 62).
Respondent and Adams appeared at a hearing on March 10, 2016, but no testimony was heard. The judge simply granted Respondent leave to withdraw as Adams’ attorney. (Tr. 72-73, 92-94; Adm. Ex. 2 at 39).

The ARDC Hearing Board held that the letter constituted violation of Rule 1.6(a) because the lawyer revealed “information to the representation of a client with the informed consent of the client and without the disclosure being otherwise permitted.”

The ARDC Hearing Board recommended a 30-day suspension stayed in its entirety for a sixty day periof of probation. The Panel recommended that the attorney affiliate with an experienced lawyer who should could contact to seek advice if she ran into a difficult situation.

Comment: this strikes me as a humane result, given that the actions, while violations of Rule 8.4(g) and 1.6(a) did not cause serious harm to the client involved.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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