Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court Order imposing a six month stayed suspension on two lawyers who violated client confidences while engaged in a personal romantic relationship. The case style is: The Disciplinary Counsel v. Holmes and Kerr, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4308 and the opinion is here: https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-4308.pdf
According to the stipulated facts, the lawyers began a romantic relationship after meeting at a conference in November 2014. They represented different public school districts and were employed by different law firms. Between January 2015 and November 2016, the lawyers exchanged more than a dozen e-mails in which they disclosed confidential client information.
According to the opinion, one of the lawyers (Kerr) generally forwarded e-mails from her clients asking for documents to the other lawyer (Holmes), who then provided the legal documents that he had prepared for clients with similar requests. According to the opinion, “In about one-third of these email exchanges, Holmes had ultimately completed Kerr’s work for her.”
The opinion further states that Holmes was terminated from his law firm in June 2016 after the disclosure of confidential client information was discovered. A partner in Holmes’ law firm then filed a Bar complaint against Holmes and notified Kerr’s firm about the confidential e-mail exchanges. Notwithstanding the termination and notification, the lawyers continued to trade information. Kerr resigned from her law firm in November 2016.
Both lawyers stipulated to a violation of two Bar rules: improper disclosure of confidential information, and conduct which adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law. The opinion states: “We agree that Holmes and Kerr engaged in the stipulated misconduct and that based on our precedent, a stayed six-month suspension is appropriate. We therefore adopt the parties’ consent-to-discipline agreements.”
Bottom line: This is a rare example of lawyers who were involved in a personal relationship being disciplined for violating attorney/client confidentiality. The Ohio disciplinary agency was advised of the lawyers’ conduct by a partner in one of the lawyer’s firm, and both lawyers stipulated that they had violated Bar rules related to confidentiality and conduct adversely reflecting the lawyer’s fitness to practice. Unless there is an exception or the client consents, confidential information cannot be provided to another person or otherwise disseminated.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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