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According to the opinion, the lawyer had posted multiple excerpts of unpublished and public judicial opinions related to fee applications in employment discrimination cases brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination on his law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 approves revised rule on qualifying provider fees and ethics opinion on “expert” and “specialist”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent (October 12, 2018) vote of The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors to approve substantive revisions to Bar Rule 4-7.14 related to the use of “expert” and “specialist” and to approve proposed ethics advisory opinion 17-2, which addresses payment arrangements between lawyers and lawyer referral services (now called qualified providers).    The ethics opinion has been renumbered to 18-1 and the Bar’s notice of the approval of the opinion and requesting comments with a link to the opinion is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/ethics/etprop-advisory/

With regard to the proposed revised Bar Rule 4-7.14, the Board considered a new proposed amendment that is designed to remove the portions of the rule which were found unconstitutional by the federal court judge in 2015.  The proposed revised rule adds new subdivisions to comply to the federal court’s order and also to address the concerns of the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected the Bar’s previous proposed revised rule.

Revised Bar Rule 4-7.14 would allow non-certified attorneys to call themselves “expert” or “specialist” if they can objectively verify that claim based upon the lawyer’s education, training, experience, and “substantial involvement” in the area of practice. The amended rule would also allow law firms to call themselves “experts” or “specialists” if that claim can be objectively verified for at least one lawyer in the firm.  The law firm making the claim would be required to have a disclaimer stating that not all firm members meet the same standards, if there are lawyers who do not qualify.

With regard to Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1,the Board considered an opinion drafted by the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics provides that whether a particular payment method between lawyers and qualifying providers f/k/a lawyer referral services is permissible must be determined on a case-by-case basis.  The opinion sets out criteria for determining whether a payment plan is proper and ethical and the ethics opinion is discussed and summarized in the Bar News article here: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F06fb4fe9ad6425748525830f004fc60b

The Board considered and approved the ethics opinion at its meeting on October 12, 2018 and will consider any comments at its December 14, 2018 meeting in Naples, Florida.

Bottom line:  The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors has taken further steps to address the issues related to the use of “expert” and “specialist” (and the federal court’s ruling that its application was unconstitutional and issuing an injunction) and also the payment arrangements between lawyers and lawyer referral services/qualifying providers.

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 lawyer suspended for 18 months for engaging in personal misconduct while acting pro se as a party in a dissolution proceeding

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss a Florida Supreme Court opinion wherein the Court imposed an 18 month suspension on a lawyer who engaged in misconduct while representing himself as a party in a dissolution and child support proceeding.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Madsen Marcellus, Jr., No. SC16-1773 and the July 19, 2018 Supreme Court opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1773.pdf

According to the opinion, a 2010 Order in the dissolution matter required the lawyer to refinance the marital home, remove his ex-wife’s name from the property since he had moved out, or sell the home. Before the closing of a pending sale and the ex-wife had vacated, the lawyer moved back in and the sale fell through.

The lawyer was then unable to refinance the house and, in an attempt to obtain a modification of the mortgage, a friend of the lawyer who was a notary signed the ex-wife’s name on the application in front of the lawyer and notarized it without the ex-wife’s knowledge or consent.

The ex-wife became aware of false notarization after the lawyer failed to make payments under the modified mortgage and she was served as part of a foreclosure filing.  The ex-wife then filed a motion for contempt since her name had not been removed from the house title as ordered. The trial judge withheld a contempt finding, but did order the lawyer to pay $2,500.00 the ex-wife’s fees.

The lawyer was served with discovery requests in the dissolution matter in 2013 related to his alleged failure to pay child support.  He failed to respond and also failed to appear in court when he was ordered to do so by the judge.  The lawyer was later sanctioned and ordered to pay the ex-wife’s fees.  He also remained in violation of several family court orders throughout the disciplinary matter.

The referee rejected the lawyer’s claim he missed some court appearances because he was representing clients, and noted that he made no attempt to advise the court of any conflicts. The referee also found the lawyer was deceptive in the disciplinary process.

The opinion upheld the referee’s factual findings and the findings that the lawyer violated various Bar rules in his actions related to his dissolution and child support matters but increased the referee’s recommended discipline from a 12-month suspension to an 18-month suspension.

The opinion referred to various previous Bar cases where lawyers had committed less serious Bar rule violations and received one-year suspensions.  The opinion also stated, as it has in previous Bar discipline opinions, that “the Court has ‘moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct.’ Fla. Bar v. Rosenberg, 169 So. 3d 1155, 1162 (Fla. 2015).”

In addition, “(the lawyer’s) conduct was entirely unbecoming of a lawyer, who is held within a position of trust and respect in our society, and cannot be tolerated,” the court said in its opinion. “Although [the attorney] committed this misconduct as a party to his own divorce, lawyers ‘do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney or their professional responsibilities’ just because they are litigants in personal matters. Fla. Bar v. Cibula, 725 So. 2d 360, 365 (Fla. 1998).”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who engaged in personal ethical misconduct as a party to a personal dissolution matter.  The Supreme Court opinion points out that the Court has “moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct” and lawyers “do not cast aside the oath they take as an attorney….just because they are litigants in personal matters.”  Lawyers must comply with the Florida Bar rules, even while acting as a party in a personal civil matter.

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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Connecticut lawyer who was sued for malpractice and included client’s psychiatric records in court document suspended for 2 years

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 2 year suspension of a Connecticut lawyer who was sued for legal malpractice and released his former client’s psychiatric records in retaliation and to embarrass the client.  The case is Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason E. Pearl, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Order 418034, Docket No.: HHBCV186043301S.

The lawyer’s former client, Veronica Perakos, sued him for professional malpractice in December 2014.  According to the complaint, the client hired the lawyer in 2011 to defend her in a lawsuit her condominium association filed regarding alleged failure to pay common fees and monthly special assessment fees.  Her debt to the association was $22,358.00 and the lawyer was alleged to have failed to notify her about the risk of foreclosure if she did not make the monthly payments on the debt.

The lawsuit also claimed the lawyer did not explain to the client what happened after a court hearing, failed to give the client file to the client’s new lawyer in a timely manner, and told the new lawyer that the client’s foreclosure matter would be resolved if she placed the property on the market for a price set by the court.  The lawyer had previously been suspended for 120 days in 2013 for not complying with a random IOLTA audit and the lawsuit claimed that he also failed to notify the client of that audit.

According to court documents, approximately six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer filed an electronically filed motion with the court asking that the client be declared “unfit to testify due to her psychiatric history, medical commitment, conservatorship and untruthfulness.” The client’s psychiatric records were also enclosed with the motion without the client’s permission.  According to media reports, the lawyer had represented the client on previous matters, which was how he obtained her medical records dating back to 2006.

The malpractice litigation resulted in a judgment for the client and, after reviewing the information and evidence regarding the publication of the client’s confidential psychiatric records, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander found as follows:

The Court finds clear and convincing evidence that Jason E. Pearl violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice by his unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records. The Court finds that the respondent violated Rule 1.9 of the Professional Rules of Conduct in that his conduct was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client. As a result of these findings, the Court orders a 2 year suspension on his right to practice law effective immediately. The court orders that the respondent must successfully complete 20 hours of legal ethics training and file notice evidencing the completion of this training. The training must be attended in person and not online. The respondent also must comply with the requirements of Practice Book § 2-47B during his suspension. If the respondent seeks reinstatement to the bar after the period of suspension, he must comply with the procedures outlined in Practice Book § 2-53.

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was apparently upset that his client had filed a malpractice claim against him and he decided to make an “unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records”, which “ was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client.”

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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Nevada lawyer suspended for 6 months and 1 day for displaying a gun at a deposition and other “appalling behavior”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 6 month and 1 day suspension of a Nevada lawyer for brandishing a gun at a deposition, using derogatory language and repeatedly making inappropriate statements, and other “appalling behavior”.  The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316.  The September 7, 2018 unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/18-35030%20(1).pdf

The lawyer was representing himself as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit and the misconduct is related to the lawyer’s behavior during a deposition of the Plaintiff at his office in September 2016.  The lawyer used vulgarities while questioning the witness, called the deponent derogatory names (including “Dip Shit” and “Big Bird”), aggressively interrupted the witness and opposing counsel, answered questions for the witness, and repeatedly made inappropriate statements on the record.

At one point during the deposition, the lawyer put his hand near his hip and asked the witness if he was “ready for it”. The witness then briefly left the room and when he returned, the lawyer displayed a firearm he had in a holster on his hip to the witness and the opposing counsel.  The deposition was then terminated and the defamation litigation was put on hold.  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Protective Order and Motion for Sanctions outlining the misconduct.  The Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions and exhibits are here: 9-29-16 Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions.  The lawyer was sanctioned for his misconduct in the litigation.

The unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order states: “(h)aving reviewed the record on appeal, we conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the panel’s findings that Pengilly violated RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Indeed, the deposition transcript, coupled with the testimony at the formal hearing, demonstrates that Pengilly displayed appalling behavior toward the deponent. Additionally, the record is clear, and Pengilly admits, that he displayed a firearm. Accordingly, we agree with the hearing panel that Pengilly committed the violation set forth above.”

“Pengilly argues that his conduct should be viewed under a negligence standard, but we agree with the panel that he acted knowingly as he was consciously aware of his conduct and knew his behavior was inappropriate. His conduct caused actual injury to the proceeding as the deposition concluded early and the discovery commissioner had to issue a protective order, causing the case to be delayed. Both the deponent and his attorney testified they were afraid Pengilly was going to shoot them, and their fears were documented: they immediately called the police, filed police reports the next day, filed for a TPO, and filed bar grievances. Further, there was the potential for serious injury to every one present—the deponent, his attorney, the court reporter, Pengilly’s office staff, and even Pengilly himself–because a deadly weapon was involved.”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was clearly lacking in emotional control and anger management, to say the least.  In addition, he was representing himself, and we know how that can go.

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’s RJA committee proposes amendments to RJA Rule 2.505 clarifying requirements for substitute attorneys

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent draft amendments to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration which would clarify the requirements for substitute attorneys in litigation matters.

According to an article in the July 15, 2018 Florida Bar News, the Florida Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee has drafted revised rules to address requirements for substitute attorneys who appear at hearings when the attorney of record has a scheduling conflict.

At its meeting at the Florida Bar’s annual meeting in June 2018, the Bar’s RJA Committee considered a proposed amendment to Rule 2.505, clarifying which attorneys are authorized to represent a party and require substitute lawyers (“stand-in” attorneys under the proposed rule), to file a notice of appearance unless they are from the same firm, company, or agency as the attorney of record in the case.  The committee did not require a first reading and the proposed rule amendments will be placed on the agenda for final committee approval at the Bar’s Fall Meeting in Tampa on October 19, 2018.

Substitute or covering (or “stand in”) attorneys are not currently mentioned in RJA Rule 2.505, which, inter alia, addresses how attorneys enter and leave cases.  The use of substitute or covering (“stand-in”) lawyers has developed outside of the rules and with minimal authority.  Cases from the various district courts of appeal have found that a document filed by a substitute attorney is a nullity or was subject to challenge.

The proposed rule amendment states that an attorney appears for a party by signing the first pleading or the first document a filed in a case, by filing a notice of appearance, being named as the succeeding attorney in a substitution order, filing a notice of substitution, or filing a notice of limited appearance.  Current Rule 2.505 does not address coverage counsel or limited appearances.

The Bar’s Vision 2016 commission recommended rule revisions in cases in which a self-represented party hires an attorney to help in specific, limited issues, or circumstances.  The RJA committee then submitted a more extensive amendment to Rule 2.505, which addressed how attorneys enter and leave a case, and limited appearances of attorneys.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected that proposed amendment in 2017 and stated:  “While the attempt to develop one body of comprehensive rules that classifies different types of representation and governs how attorneys appear and terminate an appearance in a case is laudable, we believe more refined rules that address these matters for each of the various practice areas should be considered; and there should be more active involvement of and communication between all the affected rules committees before new proposals are finalized.” The September 7, 2017 Florida Supreme Court opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2017/sc16-1062.pdf

Bottom line:  This issue has been around and debated for a number of years and many lawyers are not even aware of it and follow local custom when there is a need for a covering attorney.  The proposed rule revisions are an attempt to create uniformity with regard to substitute/covering attorneys.

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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First Limited Licensed Paralegal Practitioners expected to be licensed to practice limited law in Utah in 2019

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the implementation of the limited license practitioners (LLP) program in Utah, which is the second such program in the United States.  The first non-lawyer licensing program was Washington’s Limited Licensed Legal Technician (LLLT) Program, which has been in place since 2015.

In 2015, the Utah Supreme Court considered a proposal to permit limited licensed paralegal practitioners (LPPs) to provide legal advice and assist clients in limited matters; however, those paralegals would not be permitted to appear in court.  The new LPPs would assist clients in completing legal forms, completing settlement agreements and representing them in mediated negotiations.

The Utah Supreme Court Task Force to Examine Limited Legal Licensing was appointed to consider rules permitting non-lawyers to provide help in specified areas of family law, eviction and debt collection.  The task force’s report recommended that LPPs have a law degree or an associate’s degree with a paralegal certificate, paralegal certification, paralegal experience and additional coursework in their practice area. The Utah State Bar would supervise the licensing and discipline.

The Utah Supreme Court Task Force’s November 18, 2015 Report and Recommendation is here: http://www.utcourts.gov/committees/limited_legal/Supreme%20Court%20Task%20Force%20to%20Examine%20Limited%20Legal%20Licensing.pdf.

The new LLP Rules were approved by the Utah Supreme Court and will take effect November 1, 2018.  The first LLPs in Utah are expected to be licensed in 2019, which will make it the second state to license non-lawyers to practice law and will allow LLPs practice without a lawyer’s supervision in three areas.

Those legal areas include:  matters involving temporary separation, divorce, parentage, cohabitant abuse, civil stalking, custody and support, and name change, matters involving forcible entry and detainer, and debt collection matters in which the dollar amount in issue does not exceed the statutory limit for small claims cases.  LLPs will not be permitted to appear in court on behalf of a client.

LPPs will be permitted to help clients choose, complete, file, and complete service of legal forms; review and explain court orders or another party’s documents; advocate for a client in a mediation; and complete settlement agreements after a negotiation.  Classes for licensed paralegal practitioners will be taught at Utah Valley University and the first licensing examinations are expected to be held in Spring 2019.

Bottom line:  Utah is the second state to permit limited licensed legal practice in the United States.  Washington has had a Limited Licensed Legal Technician (LLLT) Program in place since 2015 and California and Oregon are thinking about it:  See:  http://www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/Who-We-Are/Board-of-Trustees/Board-Task-Force/Limited-License-Working-Group and http://bog11.homestead.com/LegalTechTF/Jan2015/Report_22Jan2015.pdf

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 2018 Utah rules permitting non-lawyer legal practice, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Non lawyer compensation, Non-lawyer limited practice of law, Non-lawyer practicing law

Ohio lawyer suspended for engaging in “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on firm paralegal for over 2 years

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 1 year with the final 6 months deferred for “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on a paralegal for over 2 years. The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Skolnick, No. 2018-OHIO-2990 (Aug 1, 2018).  The opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-2990.pdf.

The opinion described the lawyer’s conduct as follows: “During (the paralegal’s) two-and a-half year tenure, Skolnick berated her for her physical appearance, dress, education, and parenting skills. He called her a bitch, a ‘hoe’, a dirtbag, and a piece of shit, and he told her that he hoped she would die. And because (the paralegal) recorded her interactions with Skolnick on more than 30 occasions, we have had the opportunity to hear Skolnick’s outbursts for ourselves.”

“In addition, the lawyer ‘called (the paralegal)  stupid, dumb, fat, ‘whorey,’ and bitch.’ Further, he remarked that she should give him ‘road head’ during a drive and falsely told an African American client that the paralegal “did not like black people.”

“The only explanation that Skolnick offered for his extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks on L.D. was that he had learned the lingo from rappers and hip-hop artists while practicing entertainment law and that he believed he was using the phrases in more of a humorous than a harmful way.”  In addition, “(a)lthough (the lawyer) presented some evidence that he had been diagnosed with and was being treated for cyclothymic disorder and exhibited traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, the board declined to afford mitigating effect to those conditions because Skolnick did not present any evidence that they were causally related to his misconduct.”

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h), prohibiting a lawyer from “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law” and suspended the lawyer for one (1) year with the final 6 months deferred.

Bottom line: this lawyer engaged in extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on his paralegal.  The lawyer tried to minimize and justify his conduct by claiming that he learned the “lingo” from “rappers and hip-hop artists” and was being treated for psychiatric disorders.  The court imposed a 1 year suspension with the final 6 months deferred.

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 discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer abuse of nonlawyer paralegal, Lawyer derogatory remarks, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer suspension for attacks on paralegal, Lawyer threats and discipline, violation of Bar rule 8.4(h) prohibiting a lawyer from “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law”