U.S. Third Circuit appeals court rejects New Jersey’s prohibition of lawyer’s website posts of excerpts of judicial opinions praising his legal work

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which reversed a federal district court opinion upholding a New Jersey guideline prohibiting a lawyer from posting judicial opinion excerpts praising his legal work. The opinion is Andrew Dwyer et al v. Cynthia A. Cappell et al, No. 13-3235 (U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal August 11, 2014) and the opinion is here: http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/133235p.pdf
According to the opinion, the lawyer had posted multiple excerpts of unpublished and public judicial opinions related to fee applications in employment discrimination cases brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination on his law firm website. One quote stated: ““The inescapable conclusion is . . . that plaintiffs achieved a spectacular result when the file was in the hands of Mr. Dwyer. . . . Mr. Dwyer was a fierce, if sometimes not disinterested advocate for his clients, and through an offensive and defensive motion practice and through other discovery methods molded the case to the point where it could be successfully resolved.”

A judge whose opinion quotes were posted on the lawyer’s website wrote to the lawyer in April 2008 and asked that the quotes be removed because he did not want his comments to be misconstrued as a blanket endorsement of the lawyer. The lawyer refused to remove any quotes and the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Committee on Attorney Advertising began examining the issue. The Committee and the New Jersey Bar Association ultimately produced Guideline 3, which was approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2012. Guideline 3 stated that an attorney “may not include, on a website or other advertisement, a quotation or excerpt from a court decision (oral or written) about the attorney’s abilities or legal services.” The guideline did permit a lawyer to post the entire text of a judicial opinion on the website or in an advertisement.

The U.S. District Court upheld Guideline 3 in June 2013; however, before the Guideline was to become effective, the lawyer filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that Guideline 3 violated his First Amendment rights to engage in truthful commercial speech. The district court found against the lawyer and found that the Guideline was a mere disclosure requirement and not a direct restriction on the lawyer’s speech. In making its ruling, the district court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel (1985), which stated that “an advertiser’s rights are adequately protected as long as disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the state’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.”

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the district court’s opinion. The opinion confirmed that disclosure requirements receive less scrutiny than actual restrictions on speech and that the New Jersey Guideline had characteristics of both a disclosure requirement and a restriction on speech. The opinion did not address whether the Guideline was a restriction or a prohibition; however, it stated that even under the less restrictive standard of review for disclosure requirements, the Guideline was constitutionally flawed.

The appellate opinion stated that “Guideline 3 does not require disclosing anything that could reasonably remedy conceivable consumer deception stemming from (the lawyer’s) advertisement.” The opinion also listed an example of a disclosure that would be sufficient: “This is an excerpt of a judicial opinion from a specific legal dispute. It is not an endorsement of my abilities.” Since Guideline 3 required a lawyer to post entire judicial opinions, it “effectively precludes advertising with accurate excerpts from judicial opinions on (the lawyer’s) website, it is unduly burdensome.”

“Guideline 3 as applied to (the lawyer’s) accurate quotes from judicial opinions thus violates his First Amendment right to advertise his commercial services. Requiring (the lawyer) to reprint in full on his firm’s website the opinions noted above is not reasonably related to preventing consumer deception. To the extent the excerpts of these opinions could possibly mislead the public, that potential deception is not clarified by Guideline 3. In any event, what is required by the Guideline overly burdens (the lawyer’s) right to advertise. We thus reverse the order of the District Court and remand the case.

Bottom line: This is a significant First Amendment decision related to lawyer advertising which found that New Jersey Guideline 3, which prohibited a lawyer from publishing excerpts of judicial opinions on his website, was an unconstitutional restriction on the lawyer’s commercial speech. The opinion did approve of the use of a disclosure/disclaimer to prevent any consumer confusion related to the opinion excerpts.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Florida Bar Board of Governors Ethics Committee will reconsider proposed revised Bar rules to prohibit misleading digital advertising

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Board of Governors’ (BOG) Professional Ethics Committee’s review of a proposal to amend Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 to prohibit certain misleading digital advertisements at its December 2018 meeting.  A December 1, 2018 Florida Bar News article on the topic is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Faac68d1f3167d80a85258347004f574f

The BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics has scheduled a review of proposed Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 revisions to address a common digital advertising practice known as search engine optimization offered by Google AdWords which allows an advertiser to use a competitor’s name to drive search engine traffic to the advertiser’s website.

The BOG ethics committee previously narrowly voted down a proposal to add Bar Rule 4-7.13(c) at its June 2018 meeting which would have stated that “it is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the internet or other media, including directly or through a group advertising program.”

The proposed rule to be reviewed by the BOG ethics committee contains an alternative proposal that would prohibit  advertisements from stating or implying that a lawyer is affiliated with the advertising lawyer or law firm in a way that misleads a person searching either for a particular lawyer or law firm or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

The proposed rule revision is below with the new language in italics.

RULE 4-7.13 DECEPTIVE AND INHERENTLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS

(b) Examples of Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. Deceptive or inherently misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to advertisements that contain:

(11) a statement or implication that another lawyer or law firm is part of, is associated with, or affiliated with the advertising law firm when that is not the case, including contact or other information presented in a way that misleads a person searching for a particular lawyer or law firm, or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

Bottom line:  This proposed revised advertisement rule revision would address a common digital advertising practice known as search engine optimization offered by Google AdWords which allows an advertiser to use a competitor’s name to drive search engine traffic to the advertiser’s website, which has been alleged to be a violation of the Florida Bar Rules.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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ABA Formal Opinion 484 provides guidance when a client may need third party legal fee financing

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss ABA Formal Opinion 484, which addresses third party financing of the lawyer’s fees and concludes that a lawyer may refer a client to a fee financing companies even if the lawyer owns a financial interest in the lender or broker if the lawyer complies with ethical obligations, including fairness and full disclosure.  ABA Formal Opinion 484 is here: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_opinion_484.pdf

American Bar Association Formal Opinion 484, which was released on November 27, 2018, concludes that lawyers may refer clients to fee financing companies even if the lawyer owns a financial interest in the lender or broker with certain caveats and requirements.

The opinion outlines the various ways that fee financing services are being used, including a client’s direct application for a loan from a financing company to cover the lawyer’s fees, which the client then pays back to the lender with interest rates between 5 and 15 percent. In another situation, the lawyer pays an initial fee to a finance company in order to submit loan applications from clients and, if the client receives the loan, the lawyer receives the funds minus a 10 percent financing fee.  In a similar arrangement, the lawyer assists a client to set up what is amounts to a retainer or voucher for the fees through a lender minus a service charge.

In other situations, the funds loaned to the client may go directly to the client and the lawyer is notified, sometimes through an online portal a service, for which the lawyer pays. There are also “same as cash” programs, where the lawyer helps the client apply for the loan and, if a loan is made, the financial relationship remains between the lender and the client.  Finally, a lawyer may work with a financial brokerage company that helps find legal fee financing options.

In the above arrangements, the attorney making the referral does not have an ownership or financial interest in the lender or broker and must explain the arrangement so the client can make an informed decision.  The opinion states that these arrangements are permissible only if other Model Rules of Professional Conduct are met, including: Model Rule 1.2(c) (Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer); Model Rule 1.4(b) (Communications); Model Rule 1.5(a) and (b) (Fees); Model Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information); Model Rule 1.7(a)(2) (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients); and Model Rule 1.9(a) (Duties to Former Clients).

In a footnote, the opinion refers to Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 16-2 and states that this opinion “reason(ed) that legal fee financing is not impermissible fee sharing because it is a form of credit plan and Florida ethics rules permit lawyers to accept payments through credit plans, which include credit cards.”  That opinion specifically addressed the fees of a criminal defense lawyer.  Florida Bar Ethics Op. 16-2 is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/etopinions/etopinion-16-2/

The opinion only addresses situations where a lawyer is being paid from funds that a client borrowed and does not address a nonrecourse cash advance to a litigant in exchange for a percentage of the judgement or settlement.  According to the opinion, if a lawyer recommends a fee financing or brokerage company in which the lawyer has an ownership or financial stake, the lawyer must disclose the relationship, ensure fair and reasonable terms, advise the client to seek independent legal advice on the transaction, and obtain the client’s  written informed consent.

The ABA formal opinion further states that if a lawyer charges a higher fee to account for any transactional costs or subscription fees the lawyer must pay the lender, that fee must be reasonable and disclosed to the client. Additionally, the opinion cautioned that lawyers should not “recommend the finance company or broker to the client even though fee financing is not in the client’s interests because the client’s arrangement of financing best assures payment or timely payment of the lawyer’s fee.”

“Finally, although not among the fee financing scenarios of which the Committee has been made aware, it is conceivable that a lawyer might acquire an ownership or other financial interest in a finance company or brokerage, or wish to form such a business. If a lawyer did so and referred a client to that entity, the lawyer would be entering into a business transaction with the client or would be acquiring a security or pecuniary interest adverse to the client, or both. In those situations, the lawyer would need to comply with Model Rule 1.8(a) (which is substantially the same as Florida Bar Rule 4-1.8(a).”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion sets forth the lawyer’s obligations related to third party financing of the lawyer’s fees and concludes that a lawyer may refer a client to a fee financing company even if the lawyer owns a financial interest in the lender or broker if the lawyer complies with all ethical obligations.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Filed under ABA Formal Opinion 484 third party financing of attorneys fees, ABA formal opinions, ABA Model Rules, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 16-2- legal fee and other third party financing, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism

Florida Supreme Court opinion finds that social media friendship with lawyer alone is not sufficient to disqualify judge

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent (11/15/18) Florida Supreme Court opinion which found that social media friendship with a lawyer, standing alone, is not sufficient to disqualify a judge.  The case is Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A. v. United Services Automobile Association, No. SC17-1848 (Fla. November 15, 2018) and the opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc17-1848.pdf

In the split opinion, the Florida Supreme Court resolved a conflict between Florida Districts Courts of Appeal as to whether a judge must be disqualified if he or she is a “Facebook friend” with a lawyer appearing before the judge. The Third and Fifth Districts had held that social media friendship alone was not a sufficient basis to disqualify a judge.

The Fourth District, however, held that recusal is required when a judge is a Facebook “friend” with a criminal prosecutor.  The opinion discussed the previously held principle of Florida law that a “traditional friendship” between a judge and an attorney, without more, is not sufficient to disqualify a judge and extended that principle to social media friendships, finding that “an allegation that a trial judge is a Facebook ‘friend’ with an attorney appearing before the judge, standing alone, does not constitute a legally sufficient basis for disqualification.”  The opinion did caution that “particular friendship relationships may present such circumstances requiring disqualification.”

According to the opinion, the states of Arizona, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, and Utah have also found that a social media friendship between a judge and an attorney appearing before the judge standing alone, is not sufficient to disqualify the judge; however, a “minority” of states have found that social media friendships between judges and attorneys create an “appearance of impropriety” and may be prohibited.  The opinion lists the states of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma as taking this position, along with Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2009-20 (which may now be withdrawn or revised).

The opinion concluded:

In some circumstances, the relationship between a judge and a litigant, lawyer, or other person involved in a case will be a basis for disqualification of the judge. Particular friendship relationships may present such circumstances requiring disqualification. But our case law clearly establishes that not every relationship characterized as a friendship provides a basis for disqualification. And there is no reason that Facebook “friendships”—which regularly involve strangers—should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification.

Bottom line:  This Florida Supreme Court opinion (which was a split 4-3 decision) concludes that Florida judges are not subject to disqualification merely for being a “friend” of a lawyer on social media (specifically Facebook); however, there may be additional factual circumstances which may require disqualification.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee issues proposed Opinion regarding lawyers’ charging clients interest on advanced costs

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee’s recent (October 19, 2018) proposed Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-2, which states that lawyers can charge clients a reasonable and lawful rate of interest on advanced costs.  The Notice in the 11/15/18 Florida Bar News with the proposed opinion is here: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F42e6a9582cd941f6852583320068815f

According to the proposed opinion:  “The inquirer advances costs in personal injury cases. The inquirer’s contract provides that repayment of the costs is contingent upon obtaining a recovery in a client’s cases. The inquirer proposes to secure a non-recourse loan from an outside funding company to cover costs in personal injury cases. Interest on the loan would be owed to the funding company only if there is a recovery. The inquirer asks whether it is ethical to charge the client for the interest on the loan if there is a recovery and whether the interest may exceed 18.5% with the client’s written consent.”

After citing numerous other ethics opinions and cases in and outside of Florida, the opinion concludes that “the inquirer may charge a reasonable, lawful rate of interest on contingent costs with the client’s informed consent in writing.”

“Regarding the inquirer’s second question, the lawyer can only charge a lawful rate of interest and the amount must be reasonable. See, Rules 4-1.5(a) and 4-1.8(a), Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. Although the question of whether an interest rate in excess of 18.5% is lawful is outside the committee’s purview, the committee is of the opinion that it is an unreasonable rate of interest because the inquirer should be able to find a lower rate of interest. It is therefore impermissible for the inquirer to charge the client the proposed rate.”

“In summary, a lawyer may charge a lawful rate of interest on an advance of contingent costs from the time the costs are incurred by the lawyer provided the rate of interest is lawful, reasonable, in the best interest of the client, is disclosed to the client in writing at the earliest opportunity, and the client gives informed consent in writing.”

According to the November 15, 2018 Bar News Notice, “The (professional ethics) committee will consider any comments received at a meeting to be held in conjunction with the bar’s Winter Meeting. Comments must contain the proposed advisory opinion number and clearly state the issues for the committee to consider. A written argument may be included explaining why the Florida Bar member believes the committee’s opinion is either correct or incorrect and may contain citations to relevant authorities. Comments should be submitted to Elizabeth Clark Tarbert, Ethics Counsel, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300, and must be postmarked no later than 30 days from the date of this publication.”

Bottom line:  This proposed Florida Bar opinion concludes that Florida lawyers may charge clients interest on advanced costs; however, the interest charged must be reasonable and not exceed the lawful rate of interest.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida lawyer charging interest on client advanced costs, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer charging interest on advanced costs, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Proposed Florida Ethics Opinion 18-2 charging client interest on advance costs

New Jersey lawyer censured for stating to nonpaying client that he would not prepare for trial and to “HAVE FUN IN PRISON”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Order imposing a a censure on a lawyer who told a client who was behind on payment of fees that he would not prepare for his criminal trial and to “have fun in prison”.  The case style is: In the Matter of Logan M. Terry, No. DRB 17-417 (November 1, 2018).  the Order and New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board’s Decision are here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1105750  and here: http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1098836.

According to the Disciplinary Review Board’s decision, the attorney represented a client facing criminal charges of sexual assault on four minors and:

In the days immediately prior to a jury trial scheduled for June 7, 2016, respondent communicated with his client in an attempt to collect outstanding fees, informing AM that respondent could not “provide an adequate defense” unless AM ……… paid respondent’s legal fees. Furthermore, in a text message, respondent warned AM that he would not prepare for the trial during the weekend immediately preceding it, unless he was first paid. He then wrote, “HAVE FUN IN PRISON.” The maximum sentence that AM could have received exceeded 200 years.

The lawyer had previously asked the judge to allow him to withdraw twice and the judge refused to allow the withdrawal.  At the beginning of the June 7, 2016 trial (after the jury had been picked), the client told the trial judge about the lawyer’s communications, showed the judge copies of the communications, and stated that he wanted to terminate the lawyer’s legal services.  The lawyer was then removed and the trial was continued.

The New Jersey disciplinary agency opened an investigation on the lawyer and, in a letter to the agency, the lawyer admitted that his actions had been unethical and stated that the client had not cooperated in preparing a defense to the charges and had refused a plea offer that the lawyer considered to be favorable.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that the lawyer’s actions constituted a conflict of interest because he “placed his own personal interest in receiving a legal fee above his client’s interest in receiving the best possible defense to the charges against him.”  The Board also found that the lawyer’s text was prejudicial to the administration of justice because the judge was required to release the jury and reschedule the trial.

The decision found as an aggravating factor that the trial had been previously rescheduled because the lawyer had failed to pay the annual fee to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.  According to the decision:  “(t)o be sure, (the lawyer) was in a difficult position, having been required to continue representing an uncooperative, nonpaying client in a criminal matter. Nevertheless, (the lawyer’s) reaction to that predicament was one of defiance—to subvert the court’s directive by ‘poisoning’ the representation on the eve of trial.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the Board’s findings and imposed a censure and required the lawyer to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.

Bottom line:  This lawyer clearly became frustrated with the client’s lack of cooperation and failure to pay his fee; however, the lawyer’s communications were obviously improper and he was fortunate to receive only a censure for his conduct.

Be careful out there, and don’t do this…

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Ohio lawyers receive stayed six-month suspensions for violating client confidences while engaged in a personal relationship

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court Order imposing a six month stayed suspension on two lawyers who violated client confidences while engaged in a personal romantic relationship.  The case style is: The Disciplinary Counsel v. Holmes and Kerr, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4308 and the opinion is here:  https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-4308.pdf

According to the stipulated facts, the lawyers began a romantic relationship after meeting at a conference in November 2014. They represented different public school districts and were employed by different law firms.  Between January 2015 and November 2016, the lawyers exchanged more than a dozen e-mails in which they disclosed confidential client information.

According to the opinion, one of the lawyers (Kerr) generally forwarded e-mails from her clients asking for documents to the other lawyer (Holmes), who then provided the legal documents that he had prepared for clients with similar requests.  According to the opinion, “In about one-third of these email exchanges, Holmes had ultimately completed Kerr’s work for her.”

The opinion further states that Holmes was terminated from his law firm in June 2016 after the disclosure of confidential client information was discovered.  A partner in Holmes’ law firm then filed a Bar complaint against Holmes and notified Kerr’s firm about the confidential e-mail exchanges.  Notwithstanding the termination and notification, the lawyers continued to trade information. Kerr resigned from her law firm in November 2016.

Both lawyers stipulated to a violation of two Bar rules: improper disclosure of confidential information, and conduct which adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.  The opinion states: “We agree that Holmes and Kerr engaged in the stipulated misconduct and that based on our precedent, a stayed six-month suspension is appropriate. We therefore adopt the parties’ consent-to-discipline agreements.”

Bottom line: This is a rare example of lawyers who were involved in a personal relationship being disciplined for violating attorney/client confidentiality.  The Ohio disciplinary agency was advised of the lawyers’ conduct by a partner in one of the lawyer’s firm, and both lawyers stipulated that they had violated Bar rules related to confidentiality and conduct adversely reflecting the lawyer’s fitness to practice.  Unless there is an exception or the client consents, confidential information cannot be provided to another person or otherwise disseminated.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, attorney/client privilege, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer discipline for revealing client confidences in romantic relationship, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer in romantic relationship revealing client confidential information, Lawyer sanctions

Florida lawyer suspended for hijacking former firm’s e-mail accounts and making disparaging comments on Facebook

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent Florida Supreme Court Order suspending a lawyer for, inter alia, hijacking his former firm’s e-mail accounts and making disparaging comments on Facebook.  The Supreme Court Order is here:  9/20/18 Florida Supreme Court Order-Paul Green

According to the report of referee, which is here:  8/20/18 Green Report of Referee, the lawyer was alleged to have retaliated against his former law firm after he was terminated by hijacking the firm’s e-mail account, posting false and disparaging comments on Facebook about the lawyer who fired him, and communicating inappropriately with a client.

The referee’s report states that the lawyer was fired from his law firm after he used the firm credit card for personal matters, took unauthorized draws from the firm, missed work and took vacations without discussing them with the owner of the firm, made political comments on the firm’s Facebook page, and wrote a derogatory text message about his wife’s lawyer during his divorce. The lawyer’s text said: “Tell Dana Price I hope she dies of dirty Jew AIDS.”

After being terminated, the lawyer changed the password to his former firm’s e-mail accounts and, when the firm turned off the lawyer’s telephones, he agreed to restore the e-mail access only if the firm turned his telephones back on.  After this occurred, however, the lawyer again blocked the firm’s access to e-mail and directed the e-mails to himself.

The lawyer also posted to the law firm’s Facebook page falsely claiming that the firm owner had been “Baker Acted”, a reference to the Florida law related involuntary commitments when a person has a mental condition which poses a danger to that person or to others. The lawyer’s Facebook post also said the letters sent by the former law firm to firm clients that the firm’s e-mails were hacked were untrue.

According to the referee’s report:

“On or about September 5, 2017, Respondent posted the following on Parker & Green, P.A.’s Facebook page:

If you’re wondering what’s going on…Patricia Parker was Baker Acted last Saturday. She has sent letters to all of you clients saying everything was hacked. It wasn’t but please be careful if you decide to go with the law office of Patricia L. Parker. Nothing was hacked but she is trying to get off her suicidal thoughts and is convincing clients she is ok. Don’t worry, my email still works and I am working with the Florida Bar to make sure she gets the help she needs. If you are a client, do not pay a bill until the Florida Bar decides what they will be doing with Ms. Parker. Any correspondence by Alix Diaz who has hacked email accounts owned by Mr. Green, should also be taken with a degree of skepticism. She’s been off her meds for a few months and things have finally taken their toll. I think her impending divorce to her husband for infidelity is part of the problem. If you’re trying to reach Mr. Green, he can still be reached at pgreen@itspersonaljax.com as he owns the domain and website.”

“A short time later in a second post on the firm’s page, Respondent stated:

Everyone should make sure their loved ones don’t need any mental help. Please check. If your brother, sister, father, mother, or business partner threaten to commit suicide … please get them help, before they hurt someone, themselves, or a trusted client. Luckily, Mr. Green doesn’t have that problem. pgreen@itspersonaljax.com.”

The lawyer told the false Baker Act story to a firm client he saw at Everbank Field in Jacksonville. He also said that the other lawyer in the firm had violated ethics rules and that he would finish the client’s case for free if she would make a statement about the other lawyer. He also told the client he would like to get together for drinks to discuss the case.  The lawyer sent numerous texts to the client; however, she did not respond and she subsequently filed a Florida Bar complaint against the lawyer. After the client filed her Bar complaint, the lawyer approached her while she was working as a bartender, slammed his hand down on the bar and said, “Good luck with that complaint.”

The referee recommended a 60 day suspension, a requirement that the lawyer contact Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. (FLA, Inc.) within 30 days for an evaluation and comply with all requirements of the evaluation, including an FLA, Inc. contract if one is recommended, and payment of the Bar and FLA costs.  The Florida Supreme Court Order adopted the findings of the referee and suspended the lawyer for 60 days with the recommended conditions.

Bottom line: This is a lawyer who engaged in improper conduct while with a law firm and then apparently went out of control after being terminated, including posting disparaging comments on social media.  The Court has suspended the lawyer for 60 days and required that he undergo an evaluation through FLA, Inc. and, if recommended, to comply with any and all treatment requirements in an FLA contract.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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