Tag Archives: attorney/client confidentiality

Two Ohio lawyers receive stayed six-month suspensions for violating client confidences while engaged in a personal relationship

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.

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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ABA issues Formal Ethics Opinion 483 providing ethics guidance to lawyers before and after a cyber breach or hack

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent (October 17, 2018) American Bar Association Formal Opinion 483 which provides guidance to lawyers before and when there has been a cyber breach or hack.  The opinion is here:  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba_formal_op_483.pdf

Just like to rest of our digital world, lawyers are susceptible to cyber hacking/breaches when using digital devices and programs or otherwise using the internet.  The ABA Opinion confirms the duty that lawyers have to attempt to prevent such hacks and breaches and also the lawyer’s obligation to notify clients of a data hack/breach.

The opinion provides the reasonable steps that lawyers can take to meet their obligations under the ABA model rules and emphasizes the importance for lawyers to plan for an electronic breach or cyberattack and discusses how model rules may apply when an incident is either detected or suspected. According to the opinion, the following Model Rules of Professional Conduct would potentially apply:

Rule 1.1 (competence), requiring lawyers to develop sufficient competence in technology to meet their obligations under the rules after a breach; Rule 1.15 (safekeeping property), requiring lawyers to protect trust accounts, documents and property the lawyer is holding for clients or third parties; Rule 1.4 (communication), requiring lawyers to take reasonable steps to communicate with clients after an incident; Rule 1.6 (confidentiality), regarding issues of confidentiality in the client-lawyer relationship; Rule 5.1 (lawyer oversight), which sets forth the responsibilities of a managing partner or supervisory lawyer and; Rule 5.3 (nonlawyer oversight), which sets forth the responsibilities of supervisors who are nonlawyers.

The opinion states that “(w)hen a breach of protected client information is either suspected or detected, Rule 1.1 requires that the lawyer act reasonably and promptly to stop the breach and mitigate damage resulting from the breach…(h)ow a lawyer does so in any particular circumstance is beyond the scope of this opinion.”

“As a matter of preparation and best practices, however, lawyers should consider proactively developing an incident response plan with specific plans and procedures for responding to a data breach. The decision whether to adopt a plan, the content of any plan and actions taken to train and prepare for implementation of the plan should be made before a lawyer is swept up in an actual breach.”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion addresses and discusses a lawyer’s obligations in attempting to prevent a cyber hack or breach and also provides guidance regarding the lawyer’s obligations if a breach/hack occurs.  All lawyers should be addressing serious issue this now and should consult their state/jurisdiction’s ethics rules to insure compliance.

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.

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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Connecticut lawyer who was sued for malpractice and included client’s psychiatric records in court document suspended for 2 years

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 2 year suspension of a Connecticut lawyer who was sued for legal malpractice and released his former client’s psychiatric records in retaliation and to embarrass the client.  The case is Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason E. Pearl, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Order 418034, Docket No.: HHBCV186043301S.

The lawyer’s former client, Veronica Perakos, sued him for professional malpractice in December 2014.  According to the complaint, the client hired the lawyer in 2011 to defend her in a lawsuit her condominium association filed regarding alleged failure to pay common fees and monthly special assessment fees.  Her debt to the association was $22,358.00 and the lawyer was alleged to have failed to notify her about the risk of foreclosure if she did not make the monthly payments on the debt.

The lawsuit also claimed the lawyer did not explain to the client what happened after a court hearing, failed to give the client file to the client’s new lawyer in a timely manner, and told the new lawyer that the client’s foreclosure matter would be resolved if she placed the property on the market for a price set by the court.  The lawyer had previously been suspended for 120 days in 2013 for not complying with a random IOLTA audit and the lawsuit claimed that he also failed to notify the client of that audit.

According to court documents, approximately six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer filed an electronically filed motion with the court asking that the client be declared “unfit to testify due to her psychiatric history, medical commitment, conservatorship and untruthfulness.” The client’s psychiatric records were also enclosed with the motion without the client’s permission.  According to media reports, the lawyer had represented the client on previous matters, which was how he obtained her medical records dating back to 2006.

The malpractice litigation resulted in a judgment for the client and, after reviewing the information and evidence regarding the publication of the client’s confidential psychiatric records, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander found as follows:

The Court finds clear and convincing evidence that Jason E. Pearl violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice by his unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records. The Court finds that the respondent violated Rule 1.9 of the Professional Rules of Conduct in that his conduct was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client. As a result of these findings, the Court orders a 2 year suspension on his right to practice law effective immediately. The court orders that the respondent must successfully complete 20 hours of legal ethics training and file notice evidencing the completion of this training. The training must be attended in person and not online. The respondent also must comply with the requirements of Practice Book § 2-47B during his suspension. If the respondent seeks reinstatement to the bar after the period of suspension, he must comply with the procedures outlined in Practice Book § 2-53.

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was apparently upset that his client had filed a malpractice claim against him and he decided to make an “unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records”, which “ was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client.”

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.

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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Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee approves staff opinion addressing lawyer responses to negative online reviews

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee’s recent approval of Florida Bar Staff Opinion 38049, which addresses lawyer responses to negative online reviews.

On June 15, 2018, the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee unanimously approved Florida Bar Staff Opinion 38049 which states that a lawyer may post a limited response to a negative online review that the lawyer says falsely accuses her of theft; however, the lawyer may not reveal attorney/client confidences.  The Staff Opinion is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/PRR_Corsmeier_-_38049_KNS_responding_to_negative_online_review_PEC_approved.pdf.  The Professional Ethics Committee will not issue a separate opinion.

The lawyer stated in her inquiry that she received a negative online review and would like to respond to the former client’s negative review that the lawyer “took her money and ran” by using the language suggested in Texas Ethics Opinion 662 and adding an “objectively verifiable truthful statement” that the Court entered an order authorizing the lawyer to withdraw as counsel for the former client.

The lawyer stated that she believed the added language was “proportional and restrained, consistent with the Texas Ethics Opinion, directly addressed the allegations of the former client, and should be permissible under the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and the First Amendment.”  The staff opinion found that the post would reveal confidential information without obtaining the former client’s consent and cited the comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.6.

According to the staff opinion, “(a) fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation…. The confidentiality rule applies not merely to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source.”

“The inquirer refers to Texas Ethics Opinion 622. That opinion explains that a lawyer may not respond to client’s negative internet review if the response discloses confidential information.  The opinion gives an example of a proportional and restrained response that does not reveal any confidential information:  A lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences has few exceptions and in an abundance of caution I do not feel at liberty to respond in a point by point fashion in this forum. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the post presents a fair and accurate picture of the events.  The suggested language found in Texas Ethics Opinion 622 would be an acceptable response for the inquirer.”

“An attorney is not ethically barred from responding to an online review by a former client where the former client’s matter has concluded…(h)owever, the duty of confidentiality prevents the attorney from disclosing confidential information about the prior representation absent the client’s informed consent or waiver of confidentiality.”

In 2016, a Colorado lawyer was suspended for six months after he responded to a negative online review and revealed, among other things, that the client had bounced a check and committed unrelated felonies.  There have been other disciplinary cases where a lawyer has been sanctioned for revealing confidences in responding to a negative online review, including: In the Matter of Margrett A. Skinner, Case No. S14Y0661 (Ga. Supreme Court 5/19/14), where a Georgia lawyer received a reprimand for revealing confidences in responding to a negative online review, and In re John P. Mahoney, Bar Docket No. 2015-D141 (2015), where a lawyer received in formal admonishment in 2015.

Bottom line:  As I have blogged and advised in the past, lawyers are prohibited from revealing client confidences unless an exception to the Bar rules applies either requiring or permitting the disclosure.  Permissive exceptions include responding to a Bar complaint, defending a lawsuit filed against the lawyer, and defending against criminal charges involving the representation of a client.  A negative online review is not currently one of those exceptions.

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.

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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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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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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Florida Bar’s former president responds and opposes Bar’s motion to disqualify him from TIKD v. Florida Bar/Ticket Clinic antitrust suit

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert Update which will discuss the recent responses to the Bar’s Motion to Disqualify by its former president, Ramon Abadin.  The Response claims, inter alia, that the information that received was public record; that even if it was confidential, it is not substantially related to the matter; he has no duty of loyalty; that the Bar did not object to his representation in the UPL matters; and that he will not be a necessary witness in the lawsuit.  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).

As I previously blogged, on December 1, 2017, The Florida Bar filed a Motion to Disqualify Ramón A. Abadin alleging that, during his 2015-16 term as president, he “was provided attorney-client and attorney work-product communications and advice about and involving the specific antitrust issues and allegations asserted in this action”, including an amicus brief that was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case of North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015).  In that opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the N.C. dental board did not have state action immunity because its decisions were final and not subject to review. The Florida Bar joined in an amicus brief in that case arguing state action immunity should apply.

The former Bar president and TIKD have now filed responses in opposition to the Bar’s Motion to Disqualify.  In his “Response on Behalf of Plaintiff’s Counsel Ramon Abadin in Opposition to The Florida Bar Defendant’s Motion to Disqualify Plaintiff’s Counsel and Incorporated Memorandum of Law” dated December 19, 2017, Mr. Abadin states:

Disqualification of Mr. Abadin is not warranted for the following reasons:

  1. Mr. Abadin is not in violation of specific Bar Rules regarding disqualification based upon prior service with the Bar;
  1. The alleged “confidential” information received when Mr. Abadin was an executive officer of The Florida Bar or a member of the Board of Governors regarding the Bar’s response to the Dental Examiners case (other than legal advice) is public information;
  1. Even assuming the information received by Mr. Abadin is confidential, such information is not relevant to the cause of action in this lawsuit and, therefore, is not substantially related to this matter and would not be used to the Bar’s disadvantage;
  1. Mr. Abadin’s fiduciary duty of loyalty to The Florida Bar ended when his service as President was complete, which was prior to the time Plaintiff was formed;
  1. The Florida Bar did not object to Mr. Abadin’s representation of Plaintiff in connection with the Bar’s UPL investigation; and
  1. Mr. Abadin is not a necessary witness, and Plaintiff does not intend to call Mr. Abadin as a witness on its behalf.

Bottom line:  As I previously stated, this is one of the first cases in Florida which directly alleges that The Florida Bar’s procedures violate the Sherman Antitrust Act based upon the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  As an added element of drama, the Bar has filed a motion to disqualify Ramon Abadin, its recent former president, from representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Bar and Abadin and TIKD have now filed responses in opposition to the motion.

Stay tuned…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.

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 confidentiality, attorney/client privilege, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, Florida Bar TIKD antitrust lawsuit, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer antitrust, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, North Carolina Dental Board, North Carolina dental whitening case and UPL, TIKD v. Florida Bar antitrust federal lawsuit, TIKD v. Florida Bar motion to disqualify ex-president