Category Archives: Lawyer lack of competence

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 lawyer who improperly advised clients regarding marijuana business resulting in their arrest and charged $799 for false marijuana card is disbarred

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion disbarring a Florida lawyer who, inter alia, incompetently advised a client regarding a marijuana growing business and charged individuals $799.00 for a falsified “patient identification card” he claimed could keep them from getting arrested for having or growing marijuana.    The case is The Florida Bar v. Ian James Christiansen (Case No. SC16-1081) (January 18, 2018).  The Supreme Court opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1081.pdf

According to the opinion, The Florida Bar filed a complaint against the Jacksonville lawyer in 2016, which was assigned to a referee who held hearings.  The referee found that “in 2013, less than three months after being admitted to The Florida Bar, Respondent founded IJC Law Group, P.A., and began offering legal services and advice to clients.  At the time, Respondent had no training in the area of medical marijuana. Six months later, Respondent formed Health Law Services (HLS), and five months after that, incorporated Cannabinoid Therapy Institute (CTI). Respondent listed IJC Law Group, P.A., as CTI’s registered agent and nonlawyer Christopher Ralph—a self-professed expert in the medical marijuana industry— represented himself as CTI’s director. Ralph was also the ‘Legal Administrator and Consultant’ for HLS.”

The referee also found that the lawyer charged clients $799 for a doctor’s visit through CTI.  If the doctor found a medical necessity for the client to use marijuana, the lawyer, through HLS, provided the client with an “Official Legal Certification” and patient identification card stating that he or she had received a marijuana prescription.

The referee also found that the “doctor” to whom the lawyer referred three of the clients was not licensed to practice medicine in Florida (and the clients were not told of this”.  Two of the lawyer’s clients were provided with an “Official Legal Certification” and a “grow sign” to be posted at their residence which stated that medical marijuana cultivation was underway. The third client was provided an “Official Legal Certification” that identified one of the clients with the “grow sign” as his “authorized agent” to produce cannabis medically necessary to treat his debilitating condition.

According to the opinion, “(t)his ‘Official Legal Certification’ purported to advise law enforcement of the client’s right to cannabis as a medical necessity. Respondent advised his clients, and his clients believed, that based on Florida law, the clients had a right to possess, use, and grow cannabis due to medical necessity and that they were protected by the affirmative defense of medical necessity. Respondent did not tell his clients that this affirmative defense would not apply, if at all, until after the clients were arrested, charged, and prosecuted.”

The referee found that a number of the lawyer’s clients were arrested and prosecuted after following the lawyer’s advice.  Somewhat unbelievably, the lawyer refused to refund the fees that he charged after the clients were charged.  The lawyer was ordered to refund the fees when the trial court granted the clients’ motion for disgorgement of attorney’s fees; however, he failed to comply with the order and filed an untimely notice of appeal, which was dismissed. He also failed to respond to the trial court’s order to show cause and failed to appear at the show cause hearing. The court granted the motion for order to show cause and issued a warrant for his arrest.

“In January 2015, the police responded to the residence of the clients with the ‘grow sign’ pursuant to a 911 call.  The next day, the clients contacted Respondent to ask him if they needed to dismantle their growing operation, in expectation that law enforcement would return, and were told by Respondent they had nothing to worry about and that he or someone from his office would contact law enforcement  to discuss the situation. There was no record that Respondent ever did this. In February 2015, a fully armed SWAT team raided the clients’ home, and they were arrested and charged with manufacture of cannabis, possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver, possession of a place or structure for trafficking or manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of paraphernalia, and trafficking in cannabis in excess of twenty-five pounds. In response to their arrests, Respondent encouraged the clients to file an internal affairs report regarding the damage done to their home and belongings during the raid. The clients’ home, valuables, and vehicles were ultimately seized and detained for forfeiture.”

“The clients then hired a new attorney and accepted plea deals of three years’ probation, a $15,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service. One of the clients lost her nursing license of twenty-five years and the other lost his engineering job of fifteen years. In addition, their landlord sued them for damages to the home during the raid and lost rent. The landlord prevailed and obtained a judgment in excess of $25,000 against them.”

The referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of violating multiple Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, be suspended for two years, and pay the Bar’s costs.  Neither the Bar nor the lawyer filed petitions for review of the referee report and recommendations; however, on July 26, 2017, the Supreme Court issued an order “requiring the lawyer to show cause why the recommended sanction should not be disapproved and a more severe sanction, including disbarment, be imposed.” The lawyer filed a response on August 10, 2017, and the Bar filed a reply on August 21, 2017.

After reviewing the response and reply, the Court found that disbarment was the appropriate sanction citing the lawyer’s incompetence and the extremely serious harm to clients. The opinion also noted that the lawyer “erroneously advised his clients and provided them with legally meaningless ‘Official Legal Certifications’ purportedly authorizing them to grow and use marijuana, based on determinations made by a physician not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida. Several clients who relied upon Respondent’s erroneous advice were arrested and criminally prosecuted, and their lives were devastated. Further, during the criminal proceedings pertaining to the clients and during the proceedings in this disciplinary matter, Respondent continued to insist on the correctness of his clearly erroneous legal positions, until he was ordered to show cause to this Court why he should not be disbarred. We will not tolerate such misconduct by members of The Florida Bar.”  The opinion disbarred the lawyer effective immediately.

Bottom line:  This is a quite egregious example of a lawyer’s incompetence (or worse) resulting in a nightmare of consequences for the clients, including a SWAT team raid and criminal charges and convictions.  As this case shows, a lawyer’s advice to clients regarding allegedly legal marijuana growing businesses is fraught with uncertainly and the wrong advice may result in extremely serious consequences for the clients (and the lawyer), particularly with the recent by the recent announcement by the U.S. Attorney General that the federal government will enforce federal criminal laws related to marijuana even if it is legal in an individual state.

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, Attorney misrepresentation, dishonesty, Florida Bar, Florida Supreme Court, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer lack of diligence, Lawyer lying to clients, Lawyer misconduct and fraud marijuana advice disbarment, Lawyer sanctions

Lawyer’s ethical duties and responsibilities when a represented person requests a second opinion

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the lawyer’s ethical duties and responsibilities when a represented person contacts the lawyer to obtain a second opinion.  Although a lawyer is permitted to render a second opinion to a represented person who initiates the contact with the lawyer, there are important ethical and practical issues which should be considered before the lawyer agrees to do so.

A threshold issue is whether a second opinion would be an improper communication with a person represented by counsel.  In 2002, the ABA added a sentence to paragraph 4 of the Comment to Model Rule 4.2 which makes it clear that lawyers can provide second opinions if the lawyer is not representing another individual in the same matter.  Model Rule 4.2 has been adopted in substantial form by most jurisdictions, including Florida.  The Comment states:

(4) This Rule does not prohibit communication with a represented person, or an employee or agent of such a person, concerning matters outside the representation. For example, the existence of a controversy between a government agency and a private party, or between two organizations, does not prohibit a lawyer for either from communicating with nonlawyer representatives of the other regarding a separate matter. Nor does this Rule preclude communication with a represented person who is seeking advice from a lawyer who is not otherwise representing a client in the matter.

Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 02-5 (March 3, 2013, rev. August 24, 2011) discusses types of information a lawyer can give to an individual who is seeking a second opinion as well as potential solicitation.  The opinion states that, a lawyer may provide information about the lawyer’s availability and qualifications when contacted by an individual and if the information is requested.

The opinion concludes:

… a lawyer may provide a second opinion to a person who is represented by counsel at the person’s request. In providing the second opinion, the lawyer must give competent advice, and in doing so should carefully consider any limitations with which the lawyer is faced. Rule 4-1.1, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The lawyer should scrupulously avoid improperly soliciting the person. The lawyer may discuss what services the lawyer would be able to provide if the represented person requests not merely a second opinion, but also information about the lawyer’s availability and qualifications. Whether or not particular communications between the lawyer and the represented person might be considered tortious interference with an existing lawyer-client relationship is a legal question, outside the scope of an ethics opinion.

As is stated in the above ethics opinion, before giving a second opinion, the lawyer should consider whether he or she can competently render the opinion.  In order to be competent, the lawyer might need to review the client’s file, which may only be available through the client’s current lawyer.

South Carolina Bar Opinion 97-07 (1997) states:

…A lawyer may discuss a pending legal matter with a client who is represented by another attorney. If the client is seeking a second opinion based on a subjective opinion rendered by the client’s attorney, the lawyer should carefully consider the basis of the advice of the client’s attorney and may be required to consult with the client’s attorney in order to give competent legal advice. If so, the lawyer should advise the client accordingly prior to giving any opinion or advice.

A lawyer who provides a second opinion is also creating an attorney/client relationship and attorney/client confidentiality would apply.  The scope of confidentiality is extremely broad and includes all information related to the representation, including the fact that the client came to the lawyer for a consultation; therefore, the lawyer would not be able to contact the person’s current lawyer, unless the client consents or there is an exception to the confidentiality rule.

Oregon State Bar Opinion 2005-81 (Revised 2014) states:

A lawyer may provide a second opinion to a potential client regarding the quality of work done by another lawyer. The lawyer may not inform the other lawyer of the client’s request unless the client consents or another exception to the duty of confidentiality is applicable.

Bottom line:  It is not unethical for a lawyer to provide a second opinion; however, there are important ethical and practical issues that a lawyer should consider before agreeing to do so.

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

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, Communication with clients, Confidentiality, Florida Bar, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer second opinions, Lawyer second opinions and confidentiality, Lawyer second opinions and ethics, Lawyer second opinions and soliciation

Florida Supreme Court adds three hours of technology to lawyer’s mandatory CLE requirements and increases total hours from 30 to 33

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Florida which approved proposed changes to Florida Bar rules mandating three hours of continuing legal education in technology related areas/courses.  Florida will become the first state to mandate technology CLE.  The opinion is In Re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar 4-1.1 and 6-10.3, No. SC16-574 (September 29, 2016) and is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc16-574.pdf. The rule amendments will become effective on January 1, 2017.

The opinion adopted the recommendations of the The Florida Bar’s Vision 2016 Commission’s Technology Subcommittee.  The revision to rule 6-10.3 increases the CLE requirements for Florida lawyers from 30 to 33 hours of credit every three years and three hours must be in technology related areas/courses.

The opinion also amended the comment to rule 4-1.1 (Competence) “to add language providing that competent representation may involve a lawyer’s association with, or retention of, a non-lawyer advisor with established technological competence in the relevant field. Competent representation may also entail safeguarding confidential information related to the representation, including electronic transmissions and communications. Additionally, we add language to the comment providing that, in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education, including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.”

Bottom line: Beginning in January 2017, lawyers will be required to obtain 33 hours of CLE every 3 years (up from 30) with a minimum of three hours in technology related areas/courses.

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

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida lawyer CLE technology competence, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Florida lawyer technology competence rule 4-1.1, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer competence technology, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer technology competence

Illinois Bar complaint alleges that lawyer left racially and religiously abusive voice mails and neglected a criminal appeal

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disciplinary complaint filed by the Illinois Disciplinary Commission against a Chicago, Illinois lawyer alleging, inter alia, that the lawyer left abusive voice mails telling the father of one client that “all black people are alike”, calling a nursing home administrator a “stupid Jew ass”, and using other abusive racial and ethnic language in the voice mails.  The disciplinary complaint was filed in the case of In the Matter of the Michael Jerome Moore, Commission No. 2015PR00076 (August 26, 2015) and is here: http://www.iardc.org/15PR0076CM.html

The first count of the disciplinary complaint alleges that the lawyer represented a client in defending criminal aggravated battery charges beginning in 2012.  The lawyer left voice mails with the client’s father in the summer of 2014 in an attempt to collect $300.00 in additional fees. The father had already paid a $3,500.00 under the fee agreement, as well as an extra $200.00.  The voice mail included the following statements:

“You are a piece of garbage. All black people are alike. You’re slovenly, ignorant.”

“You better give me my money or your son’s case is going to be delayed.”

“I’m sick of you, you piece of shit.”

“Low class n—–s. I’m going to have you all locked up.”

“You’re ugly, low class, ignorant. I’ll finish with you when he gets off. You’re demeaning your son.”

The second count of the disciplinary complaint alleges that the lawyer represented an individual in matters related to a power of attorney that the individual had executed for the lawyer to assist him.  The client was moved out of a nursing home and the lawyer left a voice mail with the nursing home in June 2014 protesting the nursing home’s release of the client. The voice mail included the following statements:

“You know, I tried to be academic, intellectual, and community-minded and everything else with you. What you’re supposed to do as a nursing home, you piece of [shoe or Jew] garbage. You put my girl out in the street and didn’t give a fuck, and didn’t let her come back, and know that she is mentally challenged. Are you mentally challenged, you piece of shit? Let me tell you something. There is a tort–with your stupid ass, you don’t know what that is—called violation of fiduciary capacity. And that’s what you’ve done in this, with your stupid Jew ass. Mother-fuck you, how you fucked my girl. Okay, I’m going to sue you, a federal law– I’ll sue you, sue the fuck out of you. You should’ve knew better. Fiduciary capacity carries with it a responsibility of the particular concerns of the person involved. She’s schizophrenic, hyper-paranoid schizophrenic, you piece of shit.”

The third count of the disciplinary complaint alleges that the lawyer violated the Illinois Bar disciplinary rules by:

“failing to provide competent representation to a client, by conduct including failing to file a completed petition for waiver of appellate fees and affidavit of indigency signed by Thomas and failing to respond to orders of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, in violation of Rule 20:1.1 of the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct; and

failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, by conduct including failing to file a completed petition for waiver of appellate fees and affidavit of indigency signed by Thomas and failing to respond to orders of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, in violation of Rule 20:1.3 of the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Bottom line: This is another “you couldn’t make this up” moment.  If the allegations are true, it appears that anger management may in this lawyer’s future.  Although this is clearly an extreme case (if the allegations are true) it provides me with a good opportunity to remind all lawyers (and non-lawyer staff) that we all must be extremely careful with our words in voice mails, e-mails, and all other communications.  Also, we must always keep in mind that a voice mail message may very well be accessed by a person other than a client; therefore, a v/m message should not reveal any attorney/client confidential information.

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclaimer:  this blog 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, ethnic, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer abusive e-mails, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer lack of diligence, lawyer offensive racial, lawyer racial, Lawyer racially and religiously abusive language, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer threats and discipline

Florida Bar’s Board of Governors approves increase in CLE hours and revision to the comment to Rule 4-1.1 to require technology competence

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent approval by The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors of amendments to the rules related to technology and increasing the required CLE from 30 to 33 hours, with 3 hours of technology.

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) met on July 24, 2015 and approved a proposed amendment to the Bar Rule 6-10.3, minimum continuing legal education standards, which would increase the minimum CLE requirements from 30 to 33 hours and also require 3 CLE hours in, inter alia, technology related education for each three year cycle. The proposed amendment would maintain the 5 hour minimum requirement for legal ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse, or mental illness.  The BOG also approved an amendment to the Comment to Bar Rule 4-1.1 of the Florida Bar rules to emphasize that a lawyer must be competent in the use of technology (or hire someone who is), and understand of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.

The approved rule amendments will be submitted in an omnibus petition to amend The Florida Bar Rules, which will be filed with the Florida Supreme Court in the fall of 2016.  Florida lawyers will be solicited to comment on the revisions and those comments will be sent to the Florida Supreme Court with the proposed rule amendments.

Bottom line:  If the rule amendment is approved by the Supreme Court, the minimum CLE hours required of Florida lawyers will increase from 30 to 33 hours every three (3) years, with 3 hours of technology related CLE.  The comment to Rule 4-1.1 will also put lawyers on notice that they must be competent in the use of technology (or hire someone who is).

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer technology competence