Category Archives: Lawyer ethics

California ethics opinion addresses issues related to a lawyer accepting damaging document provided by a witness

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent California ethics opinion which addresses ethics issues related to accepting a damaging document provided by an individual (witness).  The ethics opinion is Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) Ethics Opinion 531 (July 24, 2019) and is here: https://www.lacba.org/docs/default-source/ethics-opinions/archived-ethics-opinions/ethics-opinion-531.pdf

The detailed opinion sets forth the scenario when a lawyer is offered access, by a witness who is an unrepresented former employee of the opposing party, to potential documentary evidence and is advised that it will show the adverse party’s failure to comply with discovery obligations.  The opinion discusses whether the lawyer can and/or should ethically use the document and “the ethical risks and potential adverse consequences of taking possession or reviewing the material are significant” when there is “reasonable cause” to believe that the document contains protected or privileged information.

According to the opinion, the lawyer must first determine whether the individual violated the law by obtaining or possessing the materials.  If the lawyer does not have the competence to make that decision, he or she should consult with another lawyer who has knowledge of criminal law. If a law was violated and the lawyer obtains the document, he or she may be ethically required to turn over the document to the court or to the appropriate legal authorities.

The lawyer should also address whether the document or data includes material that is subject to protection under the attorney-client privilege, confidentiality, or the attorney work-product doctrine. If it becomes “reasonably apparent” to the lawyer that the documents are privileged, the lawyer would be ethically obligated to stop reviewing the document and provide notice to the privilege holder, the owner of the work product, or their counsel.

The lawyer should also keep the client informed when receiving the evidence is a significant development or if it limits the actions that the lawyer is able to take and the lawyer may be required to inform the client about the impact of any dispute over entitlement to the evidence, including the potential financial impact, including legal costs, and potential delay.  The lawyer should also consider other issues to be reviewed and discussed with the client, which would include the possibility of the lawyer being disqualified from the case and possible sanctions that could adversely affect the client’s case.

Bottom line: This California ethics opinion provides a good overview of the ethical issues (i.e. minefields) which are present when an individual tries to provide the lawyer with an alleged “smoking gun” document and discusses what the lawyer should do to protect him or herself ethically.

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, attorney/client privilege, California Ethics Opinion accepting damaging document from witness, Ethical duties using potentially improperly obtained document, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer lack of diligence, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized

Florida Supreme Court approves revised Bar advertising rule with requirements for lawyers to call themselves “experts” or “specialists”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion approving (with minor revisions) Bar Rule 4-7.14, which sets forth the requirements for Florida  lawyers to call themselves “experts” and “specialists”  in advertisements and other documents.  The case is In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 4-7.14., Case No. SC18-2019.  The June 27, 2019 Supreme Court of Florida opinion is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/527989/5865891/file/sc18-2019.pdf.  The rule revisions become effective on August 26, 2019.

As I blogged previously here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/federal-district-judge-enjoins-the-florida-bar-from-enforcing-rule-prohibiting-truthful-claims-of-expertise/, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle found in 2015 that non-certified lawyers could have the skills and experience of certified lawyers and held that the Florida Bar Rule restricting the use of “expert” and “specialist” to lawyers who were certified by The Florida Bar (or its equivalent) was unconstitutional and he enjoined the Bar from enforcing it.  The Florida Bar did not appeal.

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) imposed a moratorium on enforcing the rule as written and proposed rule amendments to comply with Judge Hinkle’s ruling; however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected them.  The BOG revised the proposed rule amendments and filed them in 2018.  The opinion approved the revised rule with minor revisions.

The revised Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 states that lawyers may not claim to have specialization or expertise in an area of law unless they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan, or “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.”  The Bar’s proposed draft rule stated “and substantial”; however, the court changed the “and” to “or”, which is an important revision.

In addition, a law firm may make that claim of expertise in an area of practice if it can show that at least one of its lawyers can meet those standards and if all firm lawyers cannot meet those standards, it must have a disclaimer that not all of its lawyers specialize or have expertise in that area of practice.  Revisions were also made to the rule comments stating that a lawyer who is “of counsel” to a law firm would permit the firm to claim specialization and expertise if the “of counsel” practices solely with that firm.

Bottom line: The revised Florida Bar rule has been in development since 2015 and the Supreme Court rejected a previous version of the proposed rule.  The rule will now permit lawyers to call themselves “experts” or “specialists” if they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan,  if the lawyer “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.”

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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U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down Ohio law which prohibited solicitation of potential workers’ compensation claimants

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which struck down an Ohio law which prohibited solicitation of potential workers’ compensation claimants as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The case is Bevan & Associates v. Yost, Case No. 18-3262 (U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) and the July 8, 2019 opinion is here: http://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/19a0144p-06.pdf

The Ohio statute prohibited all solicitations to represent claimants or employers in workers’ compensation cases.  The statute states as follows: “No person shall directly or indirectly solicit authority, or pay or give anything of value to another person to solicit authority, or accept or receive pay or anything of value from another person for soliciting authority, from a claimant or employer to take charge of, or represent the claimant or employer in respect of, any claim or appeal which is or may be filed with the bureau or commission.” Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.88(A).

The Ohio statute had an exception permitting access to journalists and, according to the opinion, “Bevan hired Capital Publishing, a journalistic service, and Regina Mace, a former client and apparent journalist, to use the journalist exception to gain access to the Bureau’s claimant information. Bevan then combined the information it acquired from the journalists with information it had obtained from other outlets (including claimant information obtained from the Bureau prior to the 2006 amendments) to compile a list of individuals who would eventually receive direct mail advertisements. Bevan then sent advertisements to these potential customers.  The advertisements were addressed to ‘INJURED . . . WORKER’ and alerted the worker to the fact that they might be ‘entitled to an additional CASH AWARD for your injury that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) has not told you about!’ R. 38-2, Page ID 172–73. Bevan’s letters also included a disclaimer which stated that ‘This ADVERTISING MATERIAL is not intended to be a SOLICITATION under Ohio’s Rules governing lawyers, as it is unknown whether the recipient is in need of legal services.’”

The law firm filed the federal lawsuit after the journalist received a subpoena from an Ohio grand jury investigating a possible violation of the Ohio law.  Lawyers for the state of Ohio argued that the solicitation prohibition was part of a larger statutory structure restricting access to claimant address information from the state workers’ compensation bureau, which was adopted in 2006.

According to the opinion:  “(T)he First Amendment provides “protection, in pertinent part, against laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech.’ U.S. Const. amend. I. Although the First Amendment ‘accords a lesser protection to commercial speech than to other constitutionally guaranteed expression,’ Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557, 563 (1980), it nonetheless protects truthful commercial speech that is not related to unlawful activity, id. at 564.”

“Under the framework of Central Hudson, when analyzing regulation of commercial speech, we follow a four-part test. (1) The commercial speech must not be misleading nor relate to unlawful activity, for the First Amendment does not protect ‘commercial messages that do not accurately inform the public about lawful activity.’ Id. at 563–64. If this criterion is satisfied, the regulation can survive only if (2) the government can show a substantial interest in restricting the commercial speech, (3) the regulation at issue directly advances the governmental interest, and (4) the regulation is ‘designed carefully to achieve the State’s goal.’ Id. at 564.  A regulation is ‘designed carefully’ if it directly advances the asserted government interest and there is no more narrow regulation that might achieve the same goals. Id.”

The opinion held:  “Because Ohio’s interest in protecting claimant privacy cannot outweigh Bevan’s right to engage in commercial speech, and because § 4123.88(A) completely bars solicitation, the statute fails the Central Hudson test.”  The opinion further found that, even if the law firm had violated the Ohio law prohibiting access to claimant information, this would not be relevant to the issue of whether the blanket solicitation prohibition is constitutional since, on its face, the statute prohibits all solicitation of claimants, no matter how the information was obtained and, “(a)s written, this prohibition is repugnant to the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly consistent with other federal and U.S. Supreme Court decisions which prohibit states from enacting blanket prohibitions of direct solicitation of clients; however, the opinions do permit the states to place reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on such activities, such as Florida’s 30 day restriction on solicitation of potential personal injury clients and other advertising disclosure/disclaimer requirements.

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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Florida Supreme Court permanently disbars lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into former law firm, creating parallel firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Order permanently disbarring a Florida lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into his former law firm and the firm’s storage unit, creating a parallel law firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Christopher Louis Brady, Case No.: SC19-39, TFB No. 2019-10,127(12B)(HES).  The July 11, 2019 Florida Supreme Court Order is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/2A42CACF97608E7785258439000C41B7/$FILE/_11.PDF 

According to the referee’s report, the lawyer was employed as an associate at a law firm and was fired in July 2018 after missing hearings and for exhibiting “odd and concerning behavior.”  Almost immediately after his firing, the lawyer began holding himself out as the owner of the former law firm even though there was one sole owner.  The Report of Referee is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/32070D97303477DA852583DF000AB0F1/$FILE/_19.PDF.  The lawyer justified his actions by claiming that the former law firm’s failure to use periods in “PA” when created as a professional association gave him the right to create a new firm of the same name by filing as a professional association with periods, so that it read “P.A.”.

The lawyer and his twin brother were also criminally charged with burglarizing the former law firm’s office in August 2018.  A videotape of the burglary apparently showed the lawyer and his brother backing a truck up to the law firm, tying a rope from the truck to the front door and using the vehicle to rip the door open. The video also showed the lawyer and his brother removing a safe and the law firm’s computer server.  A few days later, the lawyer and his brother burglarized the law firm owner’s storage unit using keys which were taken from a safe that was stolen during the law firm burglary, according to the referee.  The lawyer also stole a firearm during the burglary.

The lawyer filed several documents on behalf of the law firm and its clients without their knowledge or authority, and filed a false confession of judgment in his own favor.  He also filed more than 100 notices of liens for fees in the law firm’s pending cases “in an attempt to grab fees from cases to which he was not entitled.”

The law firm owner obtained an injunction which barred the lawyer from harassing him or interfering with his business.  The injunction also prohibited the lawyer from contacting the firm owner, his employees, his clients or his attorney. The lawyer violated that injunction multiple times and a court order was issued holding him in contempt for violating the injunction three times.

The referee’s report cited the lawyer’s refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct as one of the multiple aggravating factors and recommended permanent disbarment.  According to the referee’s report, “(the lawyer’s failure to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct) is perhaps the most profoundly implicated aggravator in this case”.  The lawyer “clings to his justification for his actions with a ferocity that is quite disturbing.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly very bizarre and the lawyer’s conduct as set forth in the report of referee is extremely disturbing.

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, deceit, dishonesty, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Florida Supreme Court, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer burglarizing former law firm, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer criminal charge suspension, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer disbarment personal misconduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false fee liens, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer filing frivolous pleading, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer permanent disbarment, Lawyer permanent disbarment theft and burglary, Lawyer sanctions, misrepresentations, Uncategorized

California Bar examines proposal that non-lawyers be permitted to provide legal advice and have a financial interest in law firms

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent proposals of a State Bar of California task force which would, inter alia, permit legal technicians to offer legal advice and also permit non-lawyers to have a financial interest in law firms.  The proposals were approved by the State Bar Board of Trustees on July 11, 2019.

The proposals were developed by the California Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services.  The task force’s proposals would make sweeping changes by modifying the restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law and ethics rules that prohibit fee sharing with nonlawyers and would also permit legal technicians to provide legal advice and practice law.  The California Bar press release announcing the proposals is here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/News-Events/News-Releases/board-approves-public-comment-on-tech-task-forces-regulatory-reform-options-under-consideration.  The California Bar agenda item with the proposals is here:  http://board.calbar.ca.gov/docs/agendaItem/Public/agendaitem1000024450.pdf

The proposals would permit non-lawyers to provide certain specified legal advice and services, with the appropriate regulation, and permit entities that provide legal or law-related services to be made up of lawyers, nonlawyers or a combination of the two. The regulations would differ depending upon the type of entity, and also permit lawyers to be part of a law firm in which a nonlawyer holds a financial interest.

The task force proposed two alternatives.  The first would include provisions permitting non-lawyers to provide services that assist the lawyers or law firm in providing legal services, and state that the nonlawyers have no power to direct or control the professional judgment of the lawyers. The other would permit lawyers to share fees with non-lawyers as long as the client provides written consent.

The proposals also would also permit state-approved businesses to use legal technology to deliver legal services.  Regulatory standards governing the provider and the technology would be established and client communications with such entities would be covered by attorney-client privilege/confidentiality.

According to the California Bar press release:  “The State Bar Board of Trustees on July 11 authorized a 60-day public comment period for a sweeping set of regulatory reform options for improving access to legal services, developed by the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS).”

“Beginning next week, the State Bar will seek written comment from consumers, legal service providers, technology experts, and lawyers as vital input for evaluating the options. The Task Force also plans to hold a public hearing to receive oral testimony. The hearing, to take place on August 10, 2019, at the State Bar’s San Francisco office, is timed to coincide with this year’s annual meeting of the American Bar Association.”

Bottom line:  These California Bar proposals have a long way to go before being potentially implemented; however, if they are eventually implemented, California will be another one of the few states which would permit legal technicians to offer legal advice and the only jurisdiction (other than the District of Columbia) to permit nonlawyers to hold a financial interest in law firms.  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 2019 California non-lawyer practice and ownership proposals, Fee sharing with non-lawyer owned firms, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer fee splitting, Non lawyer compensation, Non-lawyer limited practice of law, Non-lawyer ownership, Non-lawyer practice of law, Non-lawyer practicing law, Uncategorized

Tennessee lawyer disbarred for, inter alia, false and exaggerated time entries and making false statements in court under oath

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Tennessee Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer for, inter alia, giving a false statement under oath, knowingly testifying falsely in a court proceeding, and seeking an unreasonable fee  The case is Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility v. Loring Edward Justice, Case No. E2017-01334-SC-R3-BP.  The link with the July 2, 2019 SC opinion is here: https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-sc-decision.pdf.

According to the opinion, the lawyer made false and exaggerated time entries when he submitted a request for more than $103,000 in legal fees for the time that he spent fighting Lowe’s Home Centers over a discovery violation.  The lawyer also claimed his paralegal’s work as his own and falsely stated that he had kept “contemporaneous records” of the time he spent in the underlying discovery dispute.  The lawyer also submitted a “grossly exaggerated” fee itemization that included work for which he was not supposed to be paid.

A federal district judge had ordered that the lawyer be paid for the time that he spent locating and deposing a store human resources manager as a sanction for the store’s failure to disclose the name in discovery.  After questions arose about Justice’s legal billings, including seventeen items described as attorney time which were identical or nearly identical to invoices submitted by the lawyer’s paralegal, the judge declined to award fees to the lawyer..  In addition, other billings in the lawyer’s fee itemization were found to be for tasks that were “completely unrelated” to the issues in the dispute.

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel had recommended a one-year suspension rather than a disbarment and the lawyer, and the Board of Professional Responsibility appealed.  The hearing panel’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are here:  https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-hp-judgment.pdf.

A judge assigned to hear the case later modified the suspension recommendation to disbarment, stating that the lawyer’s “intentional deceit” and “total lack of remorse” required disbarment.

The lengthy Supreme Court opinion stated that the evidence “furnishes an eminently sound factual basis for the hearing panel’s decision” and the judge’s modification of the sanction to disbarment.  In a footnote, the opinion stated that some of the lawyer’s arguments were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion”, including the argument that the trial judge’s given name illustrates bias. The footnote states: “Not only is this argument without merit, it is absurd.”  The opinion disbarred the lawyer.

Bottom line:  According to the very lengthy opinion, this lawyer apparently decided to fabricate his time, make false statements, and then continue to argue and claim that the fee was appropriate throughout the proceedings.  He and his lawyers also made arguments that were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion.”

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, dishonesty, Excessive fee, false statements, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer disbarment excessive fee and false statements to court, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer excessive fee, Lawyer excessive fees, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer false testimony, Lawyer improper fees, Lawyer overbilling excessive fees, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions lying in court document, Uncategorized