Monthly Archives: May 2014

Colorado lawyer suspended for 6 months for making threatening call to Charles Schwab office after he was locked out of spouse’s 401k account

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Colorado Supreme Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 6 months for making a threatening call to an Arizona Charles Schwab office after he was locked out of his spouse’s 401k account. The opinion is In the People v. Stuart Adam Jay, 14PDJ030 (5/13/14) and a summary of the disciplinary opinion on the Colorado Supreme Court’s website is here:
http://www.coloradosupremecourt.us/PDJ/ConditionalAdmission/Jay,%20Conditional%20Admission%20of%20Misconduct,%2014PDJ030,%205-13-14.pdf

According to the case summary on the Colorado Supreme Court’s webpage, on November 13, 2013, the lawyer made a threatening phone call to an Arizona Charles Schwab office because he was locked out of his wife’s 401k account and wanted access. He made threats against the Denver Charles Schwab office, stating that if he “did not gain access to his wife’s account innocent people at the Denver office would be ‘hurt’ and the office would be ‘gone.’”

The Denver police department sent two officers to the lawyer’s residence and he answered the door holding a “two-foot long antique bayonet”. The officers pulled their firearms and told the lawyer to drop the sword. He complied and was taken to jail and charged. The lawyer pled guilty in January 2014 to a charge of felony menacing and was sentenced to two years deferred judgment and supervised probation.

The lawyer self-reported the criminal conviction and agreed to a conditional admission that he violated Colorado Bar Rule 8.4(b), which prohibits a lawyer from committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.

According to the summary, “(the lawyer’s) lengthy struggle with depression, anxiety, and treatment for those conditions may have contributed to his misconduct.” The conditional admission of misconduct was approved and the lawyer was suspended for six months effective May 13, 2014 with a requirement that he petition for reinstatement to practice.

Bottom line: This lawyer appears to have had serious stress/depression/anxiety issues which caused a complete breakdown and the bizarre behavior. Stress can be any lawyer’s worst enemy. Hopefully he will get help and will be able to recover and return to practice.

Let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice 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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer threats and discipline

Georgia lawyer reprimanded for violating lawyer/client confidentiality in responding to client’s negative internet reviews

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Georgia Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which imposed a reprimand on a lawyer who violated attorney/client confidentiality in response to negative reviews that a client had made on internet “consumer Internet pages”. The opinion is In the Matter of Margrett A. Skinner, Case No. S14Y0661 (Ga. Supreme Court 5/19/14) and the disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.gasupreme.us/sc-op/pdf/s14y0661.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer submitted a petition for voluntary discipline for a review panel reprimand, which was rejected and a special master was assigned to conduct proceedings and hold proceedings and an evidentiary hearing. In his report, the special master found that a client retained the lawyer in July 2009 to represent her in an uncontested divorce, and paid $900.00, including $150.00 for the filing fee.

The client had no contact from the lawyer for six weeks and, after multiple attempts to contact the lawyer, the client was able to reach her in October 2009. The lawyer said that she had lost the documents that the client had given to her in July 2009. The lawyer and the client then met again and the lawyer then began to draft pleadings for the divorce. The initial drafts of the pleadings had multiple errors, and the lawyer and the client exchanged several drafts and communicated by e-mail about the status of the case in October and early November 2009. These communications ended by mid-November 2009 and there were no more communications until March 18, 2010, when the client told the lawyer that her husband would not sign the divorce papers without revisions.

There was a dispute over fees and expenses and the lawyer asked the client for an additional $185.00 for travel expenses and the filing fee. In April and early May 2010, the lawyer and the client exchanged e-mails about the request for additional fees and expenses. On May 18, 2010, the client told the lawyer that she had hired another lawyer and asked the lawyer to deliver her file to her new lawyer and refund $750.00. The lawyer said that she would not release the file unless she was paid. The lawyer eventually refunded $650.00 to the client; however, she never provided the file to the new lawyer, stating that it had only her “work product.” The new lawyer completed the divorce within three months of being retained.

The client then posted negative reviews of the lawyer on three “consumer Internet pages”. When the lawyer learned of the negative internet reviews, she posted an online response which contained personal and confidential information about the client which the lawyer had obtained in the course of the representation. The lawyer identified the client by name, identified the employer of the client, stated how much the client had paid, identified the county where the divorce had been filed, and stated that the client had a boyfriend.

The client subsequently filed a Bar complaint against. In her response in August 2011, the lawyer said that she would remove her posting from the internet; however, it was not removed until February 2012.

The special master held a hearing and found that the lawyer violated Georgia Bar Rule 1.4 (communication with client) when she failed to keep her client reasonably informed of the status of the divorce between July and October 2010, and Georgia Bar Rule 1.6 (confidentiality) when she disclosed confidential information about the client on the Internet. After discussing the underlying circumstances and mitigation, the special master recommended a public reprimand.

The disciplinary opinion stated “(i)n this case, the improper disclosure of confidential information was isolated and limited to a single client, it does not appear that the information worked or threatened substantial harm to the interests of the client, and there are significant mitigating circumstances.” The opinion imposed a public reprimand and required the lawyer to consult with the Georgia Bar’s Law Practice Management Program and implement any suggestions in her law practice.

Bottom line: As it is with personal digital/internet communication (including e-mail, texting, and facebook etc.), this is a clear example of how the internet can make it much too easy to react quickly and badly to a perceived slight, such as a bad client internet review. Before responding to any internet postings, a lawyer must seriously consider the ethical implications and not act impulsively, which this lawyer apparently did.

Let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice 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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Communication with clients, Florida Lawyer Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer revealing client confidential information on internet, Lawyer sanctions

New York lawyer suspended for, inter alia, agreeing to assist a client in a malpractice claim against his own law firm

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent New York disciplinary opinion which imposed a one (1) year suspension on a lawyer who, along with other misconduct, entered into an agreement with a client to assist in a malpractice action against his own law firm. The opinion is Matter of Novins, 2014 NY Slip Op 03465 (NY Appellate First Division 5/13/14) and the disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_03465.htm

According to the opinion, the lawyer was hired by a New York law firm in 2006 and was assigned to work on a personal injury action filed in 1994 against the City of New York and an off duty New York City police officer on behalf of another off duty New York City police officer (the client), who had been shot and wounded in a bar by that off-duty police officer. Although the lawyer’s firm served the City with a summons and complaint, it never served the defendant police officer. In 2007, the City was granted summary judgment in the personal injury action on the ground that it had not negligently supervised the shooting police officer because it did not have notice of his dangerous propensities. The summary judgment was affirmed in 2008.

In January 2008, while the motion for leave to appeal was pending, the lawyer and the client met in a restaurant and signed a “Personal Services Agreement” under which the client agreed to “give” the lawyer 45% of any net recovery he received related to the shooting incident. This agreement included the personal injury action and a legal malpractice claim against the lawyer’s firm for “negligently failing to timely serve the defendant police officer, for neglecting to work on (the) case over the many years, for failing to take the deposition of the defendant police officer, for having failed to obtain a copy of the defendant police officer’s Personnel File in a timely manner and for failing to bring a Motion … for spoliation of this key evidence.” The agreement was drafted by the lawyer; however, it did not specifically state what services that the lawyer would provide. The lawyer acknowledged during the disciplinary proceedings that he agreed to serve as a witness for the client in the malpractice action against his employer.

During the disciplinary proceedings, the lawyer stated that the client brought up the subject of additional compensation and that the 45% fee was to compensate him for his extraordinary efforts in the personal injury action and for his willingness to assist the client in pursuing the malpractice claim, which would require him to leave his law firm (the putative legal malpractice defendant). The client denied this and stated that the lawyer produced the agreement at the meeting and asked him to sign it, telling him that he had notes and documents that would prove the legal malpractice claim. The lawyer provided the client with a list of legal malpractice attorneys and concealed the agreement from his law firm.

In May 2008 (while the lawyer was still employed with the law firm), a malpractice action was filed against the lawyer’s firm and principals and “(b)etween February and March 2009, (the lawyer) left a series of voice-mail messages for (the client) asking him to call him back. On April 28, 2009, (the lawyer) left (the client) a message in which he referred to risking his neck by putting certain notes back into the personal injury action file which (the client) would need for the malpractice action. In May 2009, respondent left a message stating that he would be leaving the (law) firm in 30 days and would be able to prove the malpractice and coverup.”

On May 28, 2009, the lawyer left a message with the client complaining that he had called him about 30 times but received only one call back. The lawyer falsely stated that he had left his law firm and said that he considered the agreement to be in full force and effect. He also threatened to throw away all the evidence in his possession unless the client called him back. Ten minutes later, the lawyer left another message stating he would take appropriate action to enforce the agreement as soon as he left his firm. The lawyer admitted during the disciplinary proceedings that the purpose of the calls was to compel the client to honor the agreement or at least renegotiate its terms so that he could have a financial recovery for the malpractice claim.

In April or May 2010, during the course of discovery, the lawyer’s law firm learned of the secret agreement with the client, but did not fire the lawyer. On or about August 17, 2010, the law firm learned of the messages that the lawyer left on the client’s voice mail and the lawyer was deposed in the malpractice action on August 20, 2010 and retracted his allegations of malpractice against the law firm.
The client filed a disciplinary complaint against the lawyer on August 26, 2010. The law firm fired the lawyer on August 31, 2010 and filed a disciplinary complaint against him on September 7, 2010. In 2012, the New York Disciplinary Committee brought six charges against the lawyer and a disciplinary panel conducted evidentiary proceedings.

The disciplinary panel found that the lawyer charged an excessive and unreasonable fee, engaged in conduct which reflected adversely on his fitness as a lawyer, acquiesced to the payment of compensation to himself as a witness which testimony was contingent on the outcome of a case, violated his duty of loyalty to both the client and his law firm by attempting to charge a client for information that both he and the firm were ethically obligated to provide and by concealing the agreement from his employer, and threatening to destroy evidence that was apparently essential to the client’s malpractice claim. The panel recommend that the lawyer be suspended from practice for one (1) year.

After considering mitigating and aggravating factors and relevant case law, the opinion granted the Disciplinary Committee’s Motion to approve the hearing panel’s recommendation that the lawyer be found guilty of all counts and suspended him from the practice of law for one (1) year.
Bottom line: This opinion tells a quite sordid tale of duplicity, false statements, disloyalty, attempted coercion, and greed as well as just plain dumb actions by a lawyer who was unbelievably disloyal to both his law firm and to a client. Sometimes you think you have seen it all…

Let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice 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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, deceit, dishonesty, Excessive fee, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer conflict of interest, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer improper fees, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer sanctions

Indiana Supreme Court imposes reprimand on lawyer for, inter alia, making agreement limiting ability of associate to notify clients of departure

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Indiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which imposed a public reprimand on a lawyer for, inter alia, making an associate sign and trying to enforce a separation agreement that limited the ability of associates to notify clients of their departure. The opinion is In the Matter of Karl N. Truman, No. 10S00-1401-DI-55 (Indiana Sup. Ct. 4/29/14) and the disciplinary opinion is here: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/04291401per.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer hired an associate to work for his law firm in October 2006. As a condition of employment, the associate signed a Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure/Separation Agreement which stated that if the associate left the law firm, only the law firm could notify clients that the associate was leaving, prohibited the associate from soliciting and notifying clients that he was leaving, and prohibited the associate from soliciting and contacting any clients after he left. The Separation Agreement also included provisions for the division of fees if the associate left the firm which were structured to create a strong financial disincentive in order to prevent the associate from continuing to represent clients that he had represented while employed by the law firm.

The associate informed the lawyer that he was leaving the firm in October 2012. At the time that he advised the lawyer of his departure, the associate had substantial responsibility regarding over 12 clients. The lawyer insisted on enforcing the terms of the Separation Agreement and sent notices to the those clients announcing the associate’s departure; however, not all of the client notices advised the clients that they could choose to be represented by the associate. The notices also did not provide clients with the associate’s contact information. The Separation Agreement provided that the lawyer would provide the associate’s clients with his contact information only if they requested it. The lawyer did provide the contact information to any clients who requested it.

Notwithstanding the restrictions in the Separation Agreement, the associate sent out notices to the clients which advised that the client could choose to be represented by the lawyer or the associate and included the associate’s contact information. The lawyer then filed a lawsuit against the associate seeking to enforce the Separation Agreement and a settlement was reached through mediation. The Indiana Bar Disciplinary Commission began investigating the lawyer. According to the opinion, immediately after the Commission began its investigation, the lawyer discontinued the use of the Separation Agreement.
The opinion found that the lawyer violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 5.6(a) by making an employment agreement that restricted the rights of a lawyer to practice after termination of the employment relationship and the Court imposed a public reprimand.

Bottom line: This Indiana lawyer tried to limit his associate’s ability to practice/keep clients after he left the law firm. Such a limitation is prohibited in most states, including Indiana and Florida (and Ohio, to which the opinion makes reference). Florida Bar Rule 4-5.6(a) states that “a lawyer shall not participate in offering or making: (a) a partnership, shareholders, operating, employment, or other similar type of agreement that restricts the rights of a lawyer to practice after termination of the relationship, except an agreement concerning benefits upon retirement.

Let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice 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

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Departing lawyer and law firm responsibilities, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer making punitive separation agreement with associate, Lawyer sanctions