Category Archives: Attorney Ethics

Ohio lawyer held in contempt and ordered to promise not to engage in disruptive conduct 25 times in “legible” handwriting

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent contempt order by an Ohio judge for a lawyer’s disruptive conduct which fined the lawyer $500.00 and required him to promise 25 times in “legible” handwriting not to engage in conduct “that is prejudicial to the administration of justice” or conduct “intended to disrupt a tribunal or engage in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal.”

According to media reports, the lawyer was held in contempt by the Ohio judge for leaving the defense table in a criminal case during jury instructions because he objected to the judge’s refusal to instruct jurors on Ohio’s self-defense laws and also for acting unprofessionally several times during the trial.

The contempt order required the lawyer to write in legible handwriting:  “I will not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or in any other conduct that adversely reflects on my fitness to practice law” and “I shall not engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal or engage in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to a tribunal.

The lawyer was held in contempt on the last day of a criminal trial in which his client, a former police officer, was accused of attacking his wife. The lawyer argued that the client had acted in self-defense and left the defense table during jury instructions because he objected to the judge’s refusal to instruct jurors on Ohio’s self-defense laws.

According to the reports, the judge stated that the lawyer had “thrown a tantrum” and acted unprofessionally several times during the trial.  The lawyer is quoted as stating: “I was totally wrong in how I protested. I don’t think I was wrong in what I was fighting for.”  He also said that he had expected a jail sentence.

Bottom line:  This lawyer drew significant media attention for his disruptive conduct and for the judge’s unusual sanction.  Trial lawyers must always be aware that a lawyer is prohibited from engaging in disruptive conduct in court, even if the lawyer believes that the judge is wrong and the lawyer’s cause is right.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida 34683

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer cumulative misconduct disruptive and obnoxiousl behavior, Lawyer disrupting tribunal, Lawyer disruptive conduct, Lawyer disruptive litigation conduct, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions promising not to disrupt in writing, Uncategorized

Florida UPL Committee will consider New Jersey lawyer’s request for formal advisory opinion regarding remote practice from Florida

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss a New Jersey lawyer’s request for formal advisory opinion regarding remote practice related to non-Florida matters from his Florida home.  The lawyer’s request for the formal UPL opinion is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2019/12/Restaino_Request.pdf

The Florida Bar has provided notice that the Bar’s UPL Standing Committee will consider a New Jersey lawyer’s request for a formal advisory opinion on whether it constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for the lawyer, who is a Florida resident employed by a New Jersey law firm which has no place of business or office in Florida, to work remotely from his Florida home only on matters that concern federal intellectual property rights not Florida law) and without any public presence or profile in Florida as an attorney.

The Bar’s UPL Committee will hold a public hearing on February 7, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Hotel, 9801 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819 beginning at 9:00 a.m., to receive input on the question and testimony from interested individuals.  Written testimony can also be sent to The Florida Bar, UPL Dept., 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300, or by e-mail before the hearing.

The February 7 hearing is the first step in the UPL formal advisory opinion process and, after the hearing, the committee will decide whether to issue a proposed opinion.  The committee has not previously considered the question and is not required to issue an opinion after the hearing.

Bottom line:  If the Florida Bar’s UPL Committee renders a formal opinion, it should provide guidance on the issue and any proposed opinion by the committee will be advisory only.

I will follow the issue and keep you advised…and 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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida 34683

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar rules remote practice by out of state lawyer, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Uncategorized, UPL Committee opinion re remote practice from Florida

Illinois disciplinary complaint alleges that law firm partner double billed clients and charged personal expenses to firm

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Illinois disciplinary complaint which alleges that a now former law firm partner double billed clients more than $108,674.00 and improperly charged personal expenses of $78,790.43 to the law firm. The case is Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission v. Robert John Hankes, Commission No. 2019PR00102, and the complaint is here:  https://www.iardc.org/19PR0102CM.html

According to the complaint, “In 2009, the firm performed services for a separate client (a construction company) in connection with a contract dispute. The firm assigned that matter an internal number that it used for billing purposes, and Respondent was aware of that number because he was the billing attorney responsible for the matter. That billing number became dormant in 2011, about two years after the firm’s involvement in the contract dispute ended.”

The financial institution’s agreements with the customer companies permitted them to be billed directly by the law firm for legal services in certain matters.  The complaint alleges that in one matter, the lawyer billed both the financial institution client and one of its lessees $23,782.50 for the same legal services related to a lease. The lawyer applied the double payment to the dormant law firm account that he reactivated and controlled.

According to the complaint, between January 31, 2018 and September 27, 2019, the lawyer sent eight more false invoices to the financial institution’s customer companies, receiving $108,674.00, which he deposited into the reactivated account. He also allegedly billed the financial institution for those same services.

During that same time, the lawyer allegedly also charged his business and personal expenses to the dormant account, receiving $78,790.43, including golf fees, dining, and travel expenses.  The lawyer was terminated in October 2019 after the alleged misconduct was discovered.

Bottom line:  If the allegations in this Illinois disciplinary complaint are true, this lawyer was greedy and believed that his surreptitious actions would keep his misconduct from being discovered.  He was wrong.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, dishonesty, double billing, false statements, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer bad conduct, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer false billing, Lawyer misappropriation, Lawyer misappropriation of fees, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer misrepresentations to law firm re billings, Lawyer overbilling excessive fees, misrepresentations, Uncategorized

Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an “incoherent” appeal brief written by his client is sanctioned by U.S. Seventh Circuit

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which discusses the recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on an Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an appellate brief which was “incoherent and filled with utterly baseless factual assertions.” apparently drafted by his client.  The case is Edith McCurry v. Kenco Logistics Services,  No. No. 18-3206.  The November 7, 2019 opinion with an Order to Show Cause what sanctions should be imposed is here:  http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2019/D11-07/C:18-3206:J:Sykes:aut:T:fnOp:N:2426737:S:0 and the December 16, 2019 Order imposing sanctions on the lawyer is here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bB6rl4nyIbhBPMUGAHYjov1t3ez5cpWW/view

The November 7, 2019 opinion upheld the dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit filed by the client stating “(t)his appeal represents a shameful waste of judicial resources.  The opinion also ordered the lawyer to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned.  According to the opinion, “(t)he hopelessness of (the plaintiff’s) cause didn’t deter her lawyer, Jordan Hoffman, from signing and submitting a bizarre appellate brief laden with assertions that have no basis in the record and arguments that have no basis in the law.  In so doing, Hoffman violated Rule 28 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.”

The opinion also stated that the “monstrosity of an appellate brief” was “incoherent,” and the appeal was “utterly frivolous.”  The brief “spans 86 interminable pages”, is “neither concise nor clear,” and “is chock-full of impenetrable arguments and unsupported assertions, and it is organized in ways that escape our understanding.” In a footnote, the opinion also stated that the brief was “a typographical nightmare” that “uses five different fonts and various font sizes, including three different fonts in one sentence, and capitalizes words seemingly at random.”

The lawyer, who had been practicing for over 30 years, responded to the Order to Show Cause stating that he did not have time to write an appellate brief or review the lower court record and did not recognize that it was “a hopeless case.” He also said that the client was a friend who had filed the discrimination lawsuit without a lawyer and that he agreed to appear on her behalf at oral argument.  He also admitted that he had permitted her to submit the brief under his name using his electronic filing credentials.

The lawyer stated that “these were all grave errors of judgment, and I can only apologize to the court and promise that I will never allow this occur again.”  “I have suffered through the most embarrassing and stressful moments of my legal career and perhaps my life during the oral argument and after the publication of the court’s opinion, and my reputation has been tarnished at the highest level as a result of my actions that caused such a scathing opinion in this matter.”  He further stated that he “embarrassed the venerable profession of law and the bar to which I have enjoyed the privilege of being a member for over 32 years during which time my competence has not been called into question.”

In the December 16, 2019 Order, the court stated that “Hoffman’s acceptance of responsibility is appropriate. Still, judicial resources were needlessly consumed, and the defendants were put to the burden and expense of sorting through and defending against a patently frivolous appeal. Sanctions are therefore warranted. Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 38, we order Hoffmann to pay the defendants a reasonable attorney’s fee incurred in the defense of this appeal, plus double costs. The defendants shall submit a statement of their fees and costs by January 3, 2020.”

Bottom line:  This is an example of what can go horribly wrong if a lawyer agrees to represent a “friend” as a client, fails to competently represent that client, and allows the client to draft and use his credentials to electronically file a “monstrosity” of a brief.  This lawyer was embarrassed professionally and was required to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and double costs under the federal rules.  Don’t do it…

…and 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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, competence, Federal Court Sanctions incoherent brief, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lack of diligence negligence, Lawyer diligence, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized

Pennsylvania lawyer disbarred after practicing law for 17 years while under administrative suspension

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss a recent disbarment of a lawyer who continued to practice law for 17 years while suspended for failing to pay the annual registration fee.  The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason Michael Purcell, No. 2651 Disciplinary Docket 3, No. DB 2018 and the October 31, 2019 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer with the detailed Report and Recommendations of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board dated September 4, 2019 is here:  http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/142DB2018-Purcell.pdf

According to the Disciplinary Board Report, the lawyer was suspended on December 1, 2002, for failing to pay his annual attorney registration fee; however, he continued to claim that he was a practicing attorney through social media.  He claimed on LinkedIn that he had “15-plus years of diverse legal experience” and that he was licensed to practice in California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

The lawyer also falsely claimed that he held several jobs in the legal field, including working as in-house counsel and an associate broker for a private boutique real estate firm in New York from 2012 to 2017.  The Report also found that the lawyer had appeared as counsel in a drunken driving case and custody matter in 2005, worked as counsel of record in a drug case, and helped prepare a petition to recanvass voting machines in 2006.

The lawyer also represented an individual in an abuse protection matter in 2018 and told the judge in that matter that he had been reinstated; however, he never provided any documents showing that he had been reinstated.

According to the Report: “During his lengthy period of administrative suspension, respondent engaged in serious professional misconduct by continuing to hold himself out to the public as an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar and representing clients in at least five legal matters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The lawyer was also convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol twice and he was charged with a third DUI in 2006; however, he failed to appear in the case.

The lawyer failed to respond to the disciplinary charges and did not appear at the disciplinary hearing.  The Supreme Court adopted the findings in the Board report and disbarred the lawyer.

Bottom line:  It is very surprising, to say the least, that this lawyer was able to practice for 17 years while under suspension for failing to pay his annual attorney registration fee.  It is somewhat more surprising that the lawyer did not address and pay the registration fee and request reinstatement.  Finally, it is surprising that the lawyer failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings; however, this may be at least partially explained by the fact that he was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol twice and was charged with a third DUI in 2006, but failed to appear.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, deceit, dishonesty, false statements, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer disbarment for practicing while suspended, Lawyer discipline, lawyer discipline for failure to respond to complaint, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer misleading law firm information in advertising, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer social media ethics, Lawyer unauthorized practice of law while suspended, Lawyer unlicensed practice of law, Lawyer violation of court order, Pennsylvania lawyer disbarred for practicing law while under administrative suspension, Uncategorized

Ransomware attack against South Florida digital record storage entity block law firm’s access to electronic records

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss a recent Miami Herald article discussing a ransomware attack against a South Florida software company that manages electronic records for thousands of law firms nationwide in which digital legal documents have been held hostage.  The October 25, 2019 Miami Herald article is here:  https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article236645058.html

According to the Herald article, “a Florida law firm was forced to request more time to meet a filing deadline in a gender-discrimination employment case in federal court because it could not access its electronic documents stored with TrialWorks.”  “The firm’s attorney representing the deputy (in the Citrus County federal gender discrimination lawsuit) cited the TrialWorks’ software problem, saying the company ‘has shut down access’ to critical documents in the case. The law firm needed the documents to address a dispute over the testimony of an expert witness for Citrus County. Its response was due Friday (October 25, 2019).”

“Since Oct. 11, 2019, plaintiff’s counsel, as well as other TrialWorks clients, have been unable to access documents,” says the law firm’s motion requesting more time. “As of Oct. 24, 2019, plaintiff’s counsel remains unable to access all the necessary documents required to respond.”  “The deadline issue was quickly resolved because attorneys for Citrus County did not oppose the law firm’s request. Melton’s firm has until Nov. 14 to respond, assuming it can gain access before then to crucial records at TrialWorks.”

The article also states:  “TrialWorks acknowledged it ‘was recently targeted by a ransomware incident that did not affect our software but did prevent approximately 5 percent of our customers … from accessing their accounts.’”  “In a statement, the company said it started an internal investigation and retained independent cybersecurity experts. “We have been working around the clock to restore normal operations for our customers as quickly as possible, and nearly all customers have had access restored within a week.”  “Company officials said they have not contacted federal authorities about the ransomware attack but plan to share information from the internal investigation with law enforcement.”

“Earlier this month, TrialWorks began alerting its customers about the security breach and initially indicated it was caused by a Microsoft service outage affecting Outlook desktop and mobile apps, according to court records. But the company’s customer alerts became more ominous over the past two weeks, including one that cited a ‘ransomware incident.’”

Bottom line:  This unfortunate ransomware incident highlights the vulnerability of digital information, including information stored digitally by litigation document assistance providers such as TrialWorks.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer competence technology, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer digital document protection, Lawyer digital document security breach, Ransomware attack, Uncategorized

The client is missing and the statute of limitations expires soon:  what can or must a lawyer do?

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the ethics issues when a client is missing (or refuses to communicate) and the statute of limitations is about to expire.  I have been asked this question (or a variation of it) many times in my over 30 years of practice and I have provided guidance to lawyers.  Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 72-36 RECONSIDERATION) July 1, 1987 addresses this issue and the opinion is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2017/04/FL-Bar-Ethics-Op-72-36-Rec.pdf

In the initial Ethics Opinion 72-36 (published in 1972), the facts were that “the inquiring attorney was retained by his client under a contingent fee contract in a personal injury matter. The client disappeared sometime after retaining the attorney and before suit was filed. Two years passed and, despite his diligent efforts, the attorney was unable to locate the client. The attorney asked whether he was ethically obligated to file suit before the limitations period expired.”

The initial opinion stated that “the attorney’s duty of zealous representation required him to take whatever action was necessary to prevent loss of the client’s rights due to the passage of time. Specifically, the attorney was obligated to file suit unless he could obtain the opposing party’s agreement to waive the statute of limitations.”  Emphasis supplied.

After the Florida Ethics Opinion was published in 1972, ABA Informal Opinion 1467 was published, which stated that the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility had determined that an attorney has no duty to file suit to toll the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability was not caused by the attorney’s neglect.

After the ABA Informal Opinion was published, the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics reconsidered Ethics Opinion 72-36.  After reviewing the facts and Informal Opinion 1467, the committee stated:

“The Committee is now in accord with the conclusions reached in ABA Informal Opinion 1467. There, the attorney’s reasonable efforts to locate the client had been unsuccessful and the attorney believed there was no reasonable likelihood that the client would return. The ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility determined that the attorney had no duty to file suit to toll the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability was not caused by the attorney’s neglect. The ABA committee further stated that it was not improper for an attorney to include in his employment agreement a provision requiring the client to promptly notify the attorney of any change in address and providing that, if the client failed to so notify the attorney, the attorney was not obligated to proceed with the case.

In view of ABA Opinion 1467, the Professional Ethics Committee is now of the opinion that an attorney whose client cannot be located despite the attorney’s reasonable efforts is not obligated to file suit to toll the running of the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability is not caused by the attorney’s neglect or inaction (see Rule 4-1.3, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, requiring an attorney to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client) and: (1) the attorney believes there is no reasonable chance the client will return; or (2) the client’s unavailability is a breach of the attorney-client employment agreement. However, even in these situations it would not be unethical for the attorney to file suit in order to toll the statute of limitations.”

The executive summary of Ethics Opinion 72-36 (RECONSIDERATION) states:  “A lawyer retained for litigation by a client who has since disappeared is not obligated to file suit to toll the running of the statute of limitations if the lawyer has made a reasonable effort to locate the client and the client’s unavailability is not the result of neglect on the part of the lawyer.”

Bottom line:  Although ethics opinions are for guidance only and are not binding, the Florida Ethics Opinion (and the ABA Informal Opinion) makes it clear that al lawyer is not required to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client when the client is unavailable and cannot be located, even if the statute of limitations will run; however, the lawyer is also not ethically prohibited from filing the 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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under ABA Informal Opinion 1467- filing lawsuit when client is missing, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 72-36 - filing lawsuit when client is missing, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer diligence, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized