Monthly Archives: March 2018

Texas Ethics Opinion 671 prohibits anonymous contact with unnamed internet defamer to obtain information for deposition

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent Texas Ethics Opinion 671 which states that lawyers, and their agents, may not anonymously contact an unnamed online alleged defamer in order to obtain jurisdictional or identifying information sufficient for obtaining a deposition pursuant to Rule 202, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.  The ethics opinion was issued in March 2018 and is here:  https://www.legalethicstexas.com/Ethics-Resources/Opinions/Opinion-671 

The ethics opinion responds to an inquiry from a lawyer which asked the following question:  “Whether an attorney or attorney’s agent may anonymously contact an anonymous online defamer in order to obtain jurisdictional information sufficient for obtaining a Rule 202 deposition”

The opinion states that under Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 202, a party may petition the court for an order authorizing the taking of a deposition to obtain the testimony of any person for use in an anticipated lawsuit or to investigate a potential claim or lawsuit.  Lawyers had previously relied on Rule 202 to discover both jurisdictional and identifying information regarding otherwise anonymous individuals online.

In August 2014, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion holding that a Texas court could not order a pre-suit deposition to identify an anonymous online defamer unless the petitioner showed that the individual had sufficient contacts with Texas for personal jurisdiction.  That decision raised the issue of how a lawyer could establish jurisdictional facts about an anonymous individual such as a cyber-stalker or an online defamer.

The opinion discusses the rules related to the lawyer’s duty not to make material misrepresentations to third parties and/or engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation as well as other state ethics opinions which address the use social media to obtain information, such as sending a “friend” request on Facebook.

The opinion extends the rationale in those state opinions and concludes that:

“(I)t is the opinion of this Committee that the failure by attorneys and those acting as their agents to reveal their identities when engaging in online investigations, even for the limited purpose of obtaining identifying or jurisdictional information, can constitute misrepresentation, dishonesty, deceit, or the omission of a material fact. Accordingly, lawyers may be subject to discipline under the Rules if they, or their agents, anonymously contact an anonymous online individual in order to obtain jurisdictional or identifying information sufficient for obtaining a Rule 202 deposition. In order to comply with the Rules, attorneys, and agents of attorneys, must identify themselves and their role in the matter in question.”

The opinion does not address or discuss the use of technology to attempt to determine the location and name of the individual without direct contact.

Bottom line:  As I have said (and blogged) in the past, the ethics opinions (and the Bar rules) prohibit using surreptitious means to contact an individual to conduct an investigation and attempt to gain information, such as sending an anonymous or disguised Facebook “friend” request.  This Texas ethics opinion extends this analogy and states that lawyers (and their agents) are prohibited from anonymously contacting an unnamed online individual  to obtain jurisdictional or identifying information sufficient for a deposition (and ultimately a lawsuit).

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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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Ethics Opinion anonymous conduct over internet o obtain information, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer misconduct improper Facebook access, Lawyer misconduct improper social media access, Texas Ethics Opinion anonymous contact with unnamed internet defamer

U.S. DOJ files Statement in TIKD in federal lawsuit arguing that Florida Bar is not immune from Sherman antitrust allegations

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert Update which will discuss the recent (March 12, 2018) Statement of Interest filed by the United States Department of Justice arguing that The Florida Bar is not immune or exempt from antitrust under the Sherman Antitrust Act based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  The case is TIKD Services LLC, v. The Florida Bar, et al., Case No. 1:17-cv-24103-MGC (U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida-Miami Division).  The Statement of Interest is available on the PACER federal document system here:  https://www.pacer.gov/login.html (subscription required).

As I previously blogged, TIKD Services, LLC filed the federal lawsuit against The Florida Bar, the Ticket Clinic law firm, and other individuals in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida on November 8, 2017.  The TIKD app allows an individual who has received a traffic citation to upload a photo of the citation and pay a fixed fee and TIKD retains an attorney to represent that individual.  If the individual receives points against his or her license, TIKD refunds the payment and pays the cost of the ticket.  The business model is based on the fact that contested traffic tickets are often dismissed or a lower fine is assessed and, since TIKD deals in volume, it can charge a lower price than a lawyer who is separately retained by the individual.

The Florida Bar issued a staff opinion finding that lawyers who work with TIKD and similar programs could be in violation of Florida Bar disciplinary rules, including fee splitting and interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment.  A complaint was filed with The Florida Bar by members of the law firm alleging that TIKD was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).  That complaint is currently pending and the Bar has recommended further proceedings.

TIKD then filed the federal lawsuit court alleging conspiracy, restraint of trade, tortious interference with business relationships, and antitrust violations.  The defendants include The Florida Bar, attorney Mark S. Good, who founded The Ticket Clinic law firm, and other individuals.  According to the federal Complaint, The Florida Bar advised TIKD that it was opening an unlicensed practice of law investigation into the company’s activities after the company was featured in a Miami Herald story and a few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to The Florida Bar if they continued to work with TIKD.

A state lawsuit was filed and was settled; however, TIKD alleges in the federal Complaint that The Florida Bar and the Ticket Clinic law firm continued to make a “concerted effort” to put it out of business, and that the firm’s lawyers continued filing “baseless ethics complaints” against attorneys who represent TIKD customers.

A recent (February 21, 2018) Motion for Sanctions filed by the Ticket Clinic law firm alleged, inter alia, that The Florida Bar has immunity, which immunized the individual defendants, that the individuals have immunity on other grounds, that the lawsuit is frivolous on other grounds, and that the lawsuit should be dismissed and the Plaintiffs should be sanctioned.

On March 12, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest stating that The Florida Bar is not immune from federal or state antitrust liability under the Sherman Act as an arm of the state based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  According to the statement:

“The Florida Bar defendants assert, as one ground for their motion to dismiss, that they are entitled to protection against Sherman Act claims by the state-action doctrine of Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943), without having to satisfy either the “clear articulation” or “active supervision” requirements of that doctrine. That position is incorrect. The Supreme Court’s most recent state-action decision, N. Carolina State Bd. of Dental Examiners v. FTC, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015), clarified the state-action doctrine with respect to state agencies that regulate learned professions. It requires that the Bar, if “controlled by active market participants,” id. at 1114, must satisfy the clear articulation and active supervision requirements in order to obtain state-action protection.”

Bottom line:  As I have previously blogged, this is one of the first cases filed in Florida (and possible in any jurisdiction) which directly alleges that a State Bar’s procedures violate the Sherman Antitrust Act in reliance upon the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  The Statement of Interest filed by the U.S. Department of Justice agrees with that analysis and argues that it is correct.  Stay tuned…

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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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Bar antitrust, Bar regulation and antitrust, BAR UPL antitrust, Florida Bar, Florida Bar TIKD antitrust lawsuit, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer antitrust, Lawyer assisting unlicensed practice of law, Lawyer assisting unlicensed practice of law (UPL), Lawyer assisting UPL, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, North Carolina Dental Board, North Carolina dental whitening case and UPL, TIKD UPL Bar request for Florida Supreme Court injunction, TIKD US DOJ Statement of Interest no Bar immunity, TIKD v Florida Bar Motion for Sanctions, TIKD v. Florida Bar antitrust federal lawsuit, U.S. Constitution and UPL regulation- professional speech and application of UPL rules, U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Supreme Court adopts substantial revisions to Bar rules related to private lawyer referral services

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert Update which will discuss the recent (March 8, 2018) Florida Supreme Court opinion approving amendments to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22 related to private and for profit lawyer referrals.  The amendments substantially revise the current rule, including the broadening definitions, changing the name of the referral companies to “matching services” and “qualifying providers”, prohibiting fee splitting, and removing the previously required disclaimer that the entity is a lawyer referral service.  The Court’s opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1470.pdf  The rule amendments are effective April 30, 2018, at 12:01 a.m.

Amended Rule 4-7.22 specifically prohibits fee splitting between the referral entities and lawyers and prohibits deceptive, misleading, or false advertising by those entities.  Also, any private entities that connect consumers looking for legal services with lawyers will be called “qualifying providers” regardless of whether they are a “traditional” referral service (ASK-GARY, 411 PAIN) or a technology-based provider (AVVO, LegalZoom).

The Court rejected the Bar’s proposed referral rule amendments in 2015 stating that private referral service entities should only be owned by lawyers.  The Bar filed revised rules in 2016 and the Court issued an Order on May 3, 2017 rejecting the proposed rule revisions and dismissing the Bar’s Rules Petition without prejudice.  That Order stated that the revised rules failed to comply with the Court’s directive that lawyer referral services should be owned or operated only by a member of the Bar and sought to expand the scope of the rule to include “matching services” and other similar services not currently regulated by the Bar.

In its March 8, 2018 opinion, the Court implemented the Bar’s proposed rule amendments but stated that “(the amendments do not) resolve our concern with how some lawyer referral services operate in Florida, especially those that refer clients to other professionals and occupational disciplines for services arising from the same incident. The findings of the Special Committee (on Lawyer Referral Services) on this matter are troubling and we continue to believe additional measures are needed to ensure the public is not exposed to harm. We therefore direct the Bar to submit a petition within ninety days proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22, and any other rule necessary, to implement the Special Committee’s first recommendation.”

Bottom line:  The Florida Supreme Court has adopted the Bar’s revised referral rule, which will substantially change the current rule; however, the Court has indicated that it continues to believe that services which are owned by non-lawyers and make referrals of both lawyers and other professionals should be prohibited and directed the Bar “to submit a petition within ninety days proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22, and any other rule necessary, to implement the Special Committee (on Lawyer Referral Service)’s first recommendation.”

Lawyers who participates in referrals from a private entity (or is considering doing so), should carefully review the new rules, since the rule requires a lawyer who participates to insure that the private entity is in full compliance with the Bar rule.

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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Filed under 2018 Florida lawyer referral qualifying provider rule revisions, 2018 Florida lawyer referral service matching service rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar 2016 Lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar matching services, Florida Lawyer advertising rules, Florida Lawyer Referral Services, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer matching services Avvo, Lawyer Referral Services, Lawyer responsibilities AVVO and Linkedin, LegalZoom

ABA Formal Opinion 479 addresses when lawyers may use “generally known” information related to a former client

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss ABA Formal Opinion 479, which was published on December 15, 2017 and addresses when a lawyer may use information related to the representation of a former client which is to the actual or potential disadvantage of the former client when the information has become “generally known”.  The ABA opinion is here: ABA Formal Opinion 479

ABA Model Rule 1.9(c)(1) provides that a lawyer “shall not use information relating to former client’s representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as (the Model) Rule would permit or require with respect to a [current] client, or when the information has become generally known.”

The opinion also states that the “generally-known” exception to Rule 1.9 was first included in the 1983 ABA Model Rules; however, there is no consensus regarding when information is “generally known.” New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois Bar opinions and ethics commentators agree that “generally known” means “more than publicly available or accessible. It means that the information has already received widespread publicity.”

According to the opinion, the “generally known” exception to the obligations related to former-client confidentiality is limited to the following:

(1) use of the former client information, not the disclosure or revelation of the information,

(2) use of the information only if the information has become widely recognized by the public in the relevant geographic area or widely recognized in the former client’s industry.

The opinion quotes an ethics commentator:

“[T]he phrase “generally known” means much more than publicly available or accessible. It means that the information has already received widespread publicity. For example, a lawyer working on a merger with a Fortune 500 company could not whisper a word about it during the pre-offer stages, but once the offer is made—for example, once AOL and Time Warner have announced their merger, and the Wall Street Journal has reported it on the front page, and the client has become a former client—then the lawyer may tell the world. After all, most of the world already knows. . ..[O]nly if an event gained considerable public notoriety should information about it ordinarily be considered “generally known.”

The fact that information has been discussed in court or may be accessible in public records does not necessarily make the information widely recognized (and “generally known”) under Model Rule 1.9(c) since information that is publicly available is not necessarily widely recognized and, if a search of court records or library shelves is required to find the information, it would not be  widely recognized.

Bottom line: This ABA opinion provides guidance on important ethics issues related to when a lawyer is permitted to use information that is detrimental to a former client when it has become “generally known” and provides guidance.  Although the opinion (and most state Bar rules) permit lawyers to use, but not disclose, “generally known” information even if it disadvantages a former client, lawyers should always carefully consider whether this would be prudent and, if the lawyer decides to do so, obtain the client’s consent in advance.

This ABA opinion is not binding and the analysis is applicable in most, if not all jurisdictions, including Florida; however, lawyers should consult the rules and ethics opinions of their jurisdiction for further guidance.

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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Filed under ABA Formal Opinion 479 former client confidentiality, ABA Formal Opinion former client confidentiality information that is generally known, ABA formal opinions, Attorney Ethics, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, Former client confidentiality, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions

ABA Formal Opinion 480 addresses lawyer/client confidentiality obligations related to lawyer blogs and other public commentary

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss ABA Formal Opinion 480, which was released on March 6, 2018 and addresses lawyer ethics and confidentiality obligations when engaging in blogging and other public commentary.  The ABA Formal Opinion is here: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_opinion_480.authcheckdam.pdf

The opinion initially sets forth the various types of lawyer public communications and commentary, including online publications such as blogs, listserves, online articles, website postings, and brief online statements or microblogs (such as Twitter®) that ‘followers’ (people who subscribe to a writer’s online musings) read. Lawyers continue to present education programs and discuss legal topics in articles and chapters in traditional print media such as magazines, treatises, law firm white papers, and law reviews. They also make public remarks in online informational videos such as webinars and podcasts (collectively ‘public commentary’).”

The opinion provides important information regarding the broad scope of lawyer/client confidentiality under the rule, the limited exceptions to the rule, and whether a lawyer can pose a “hypothetical” to avoid violating the rule.  The information is below with relevant portions in bold:

This confidentiality rule “applies not only to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source.”  In other words, the scope of protection afforded by Rule 1.6 is far broader than attorney-client privileged information.

Unless one of the exceptions to Rule 1.6(a) is applicable, a lawyer is prohibited from commenting publicly about any information related to a representation. Even client identity is protected under Model Rule 1.6.  Rule 1.6(b) provides other exceptions to Rule 1.6(a).  However, because it is highly unlikely that a disclosure exception under Rule 1.6(b) would apply to a lawyer’s public commentary, we assume for this opinion that exceptions arising under Rule 1.6(b) are not applicable.

Significantly, information about a client’s representation contained in a court’s order, for example, although contained in a public document or record, is not exempt from the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality under Model Rule 1.6.  The duty of confidentiality extends generally to information related to a representation whatever its source and without regard to the fact that other may be aware of or have access to such knowledge.

A violation of Rule 1.6(a) is not avoided by describing public commentary as “hypothetical” if there is a reasonable likelihood that a third party may ascertain the identity or situation of the client from the facts set forth in the hypothetical.  Hence, if a lawyer uses a hypothetical when offering public commentary, the hypothetical should be constructed so that there is no such likelihood.

The opinion concludes that “(l)awyers who blog or engage in other public commentary may not reveal information relating to a representation, including information contained in a public record, unless authorized by a provision of the Model Rules.”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion addresses the ethics issues related to lawyer blogs and public commentary and client confidentiality and provides guidance.  The opinion is not binding; however, it provides important information and the analysis is applicable in most, if not all jurisdictions, including Florida.  Lawyers should consult the rules and ethics opinions of their jurisdiction for further guidance.

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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Filed under ABA formal opinions, ABA Opinion 480- guidance re confidentiality when lawyers blog or engage in public commentary, Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer blogs, Lawyer communication over internet- confidentiality, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism

New Jersey lawyer is reprimanded for telling Bar discipline official that he should “go f*** himself”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent reprimand of a New Jersey lawyer who, inter alia, told a Bar official to GO F**K YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.  The case is In the Matter of Michael Rychel, Docket No. DRB 16-250, District Docket No. IIA-2014-0007E.  The April 10, 2017 OAE disciplinary report is here: http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1082359 and the February 9, 2018 discipline Order is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1094024

The lawyer was admitted to practice in New Jersey in 1992.  According to the April 10, 2017 OAE report,  the lawyer sent e-mails to the director of the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) and an OAE investigator on November 7, 2012.  The e-mails were sent within minutes of each other.

The lawyer’s first e-mail to the OAE investigator stated:  “Do me a big favor and tell Director Centinaro, THANKS FOR THE BACK UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really appreciate his f*****g lack of concern. THIS IS A F*****G ATROCITY THAT AN HONEST LAW ABIDING ATTORNEY SHOULD HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS S**T!!!!!! TELL CHARLES CENTINARO THAT I SAID TO GO F**K HIM SELF [sic]!!!!!!!! QUOTE ME IN YOUR REPORT!!!!!! NO OFFENSE AGAINST YOU, I KNOW YOU’RE A DECENT HONEST GUY.  mIKE RYCHEL”

In the second e-mail to the OAE director, the lawyer stated:  “Hey Charlie, here’s an example of what you’re [sic] f*****g AMBULANCE CHASING attorneys and their minions do to honest hardworking attorneys who comport their conduct to the RPC’s, 2C and the IRS code. Thanks so much for the back up [sic]. Look personally between me and you GO F**K YOURSEL ELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Mike Rychel”

The lawyer testified that the reason that he was so upset and sent the e-mails was that he perceived system-wide corruption by ethics officials who handled his claims of misconduct against others, and was “troubled that his grievances had been dismissed.”   He said that he sent the second e-mail to the OAE director because he was afraid the investigator would not convey his message.

The lawyer also admitted that his e-mail was “emotive, that it was discourteous, it lacked civility. Any further inquiry, whether or not it is abusive, whether it’s lewd, whether it’s obscene, I believe is superfluous and goes beyond the parameters of the Rule in terms of proving the necessary — the necessary proofs of a violation of a 3.2.”

The discipline Order reprimanded the lawyer and required the payment of the disciplinary costs and dismissed the grievance filed by the lawyer against the OAE since that was “no reasonable prospect of proving unethical conduct by clear and convincing evidence.”

Bottom line:  This lawyer apparently was so upset that he completely lost his ability to think clearly and he also failed to follow the very simple rule to think before sending an e-mail communication (or text message) which is instantaneous and permanent and cannot be taken back.

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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer abusive e-mails, Lawyer abusive e-mails and cursing in e-mail, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer e-mail to Bar lawyer cursing and abusive, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer threatening e-mails