Tag Archives: joseph corsmeier

Disbarred Georgia lawyer convicted of stealing client money and scheduled to enter prison allegedly killed his mother and fled

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent voluntary disbarment of a Georgia lawyer convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client money and schedule to enter prison, who allegedly stabbed his mother to death and fled the area.  The disciplinary case is: In the Matter of Richard v. Merritt, 302 Ga. 874 (1/29/18).  The link to the disbarment Order is here:  https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/s18y0387.pdf

According to media reports, the Georgia lawyer was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client’s money and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation after being convicted of stealing money from his clients and elder abuse. The lawyer was found guilty on more than 30 counts of theft, forgery and elder exploitation and given until the end of the day on February 1, 2019 to surrender and begin serving the sentence.

The lawyer had admitted to settling civil lawsuits on his clients’ behalf without their knowledge, forging signatures on settlement checks and documents, and keeping money intended for his clients.  As a condition of the sentencing, the lawyer was also ordered to pay $454,706.00 in restitution to clients.

The lawyer failed to surrender to enter prison on February 1, 2019 and, the day after the lawyer was required to surrender, his mother was found stabbed to death. Her car was also missing and the lawyer’s vehicle was found at the scene.  According to a statement by the U.S. Marshall’s Service: “The vehicle he may be driving is a 2009 silver Lexus RX350, bearing a Georgia tag CBV 6004.”  “He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous. Do not try to engage him. If you see Merritt, please contact law enforcement immediately.”

According to the January 29, 2019 Georgia Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer after he filed a petition to voluntarily surrender his license, “(the lawyer) admits that in February 2017 he settled a client’s personal injury matter for $75,000, but failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client or her medical providers and failed to render a full accounting of the funds to his client. Merritt acknowledges that the above-described conduct violated Rule 1.15 (I) (c) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum penalty for a single violation of Rule 1.15 (I) is disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This is quite a bizarre and unsettling case where a lawyer chose to steal thousands of dollars from his clients, was then convicted of the thefts and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and apparently killed his mother and has now fled at the time that he was scheduled to surrender and enter prison.

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, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer disbarment theft of client funds, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer misappropriation, Lawyer resignation in lieu of discipline/disbarment, Lawyer sanctions

Louisiana lawyer is suspended after criminal battery conviction for chest bumping a prosecutor

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which suspended a lawyer after he was convicted of misdemeanor battery for chest bumping a criminal prosecutor.  The disciplinary case is: In Re: Felix DeJean, IV, NO. 2018-B-133 (1/30/18) and the link to the case is here:  http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2019/18-1333.B.OPN.pdf

According to the opinion, the incident occurred in March 2015 after a conference in a criminal case in the judge’s chambers. The criminal prosecutor alleged that the lawyer exchanged words with him, physically confronted him, and “chest bumped” him. The lawyer claimed that the prosecutor started the altercation and that he was acting in self-defense.

The incident led to a criminal charge of simple battery against the lawyer. The prosecutor testified at the trial, along with several other witnesses, including the judge, the judicial assistant, and the court reporter. The lawyer was found guilty in July 2016 and received a suspended jail sentence along with 18 months of supervised probation that required him to complete an anger management program.  Before the criminal trial, the lawyer had filed a civil suit for damages against the prosecutor related the incident and, according to the opinion, that lawsuit was still pending.

A Louisiana disciplinary hearing committee recommended a six-month suspension; however, after review, the Louisiana  disciplinary board had recommended the year-and-a-day suspension.  The Supreme Court opinion suspended the lawyer for a year and a day and the length of the suspension means that the lawyer will be required to apply for reinstatement and show his fitness to practice after the suspension is completed.

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Louisiana Bar Rules which prohibit the commission a criminal acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.  The opinion also stated that the evidence supported the findings of a violation of the Louisiana Bar Rules and, although the lawyer’s conduct “caused no actual physical harm, it did impair the public reputation of the profession and the judicial system.”

The opinion further noted that this was the third time that the lawyer had been accused of violating the disciplinary rules due to overly aggressive or physically abusive behavior.  The lawyer’s prior disciplinary history is as follows: he consented to a two-year probation in 2006 for behavior caused by mental health issues and previous use of marijuana and alcohol, he was twice admonished by the disciplinary board in 2009 for failing to properly address fee disputes with clients, he agreed to a public reprimand in 2010 for relying on the “false representations of his client and (failing) to verify the identity of the parties who appeared before him” for a “notarial renunciation” and the lawyer received a public reprimand in 2013 for acting in an abusive and threatening manner during a settlement conference.

Bottom line:  This is another (somewhat strange) disciplinary case involving a lawyer who was disciplined for engaging in overly aggressive behavior, in this case, an unwanted chest bump and a criminal battery conviction.  Chest bumps may now be acceptable at sports events or on other occasions, but not as unwanted touching in a courthouse.  Things we learned in kindergarten…

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, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline criminal conviction battery chest bump, Lawyer discipline for criminalconviction, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions

Illinois Bar Complaint alleges that former large firm lawyer inflated hours because of perceived billing expectations

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent (January 11, 2019) Illinois Bar Complaint which alleges that an Illinois lawyer inflated his billable hours because of perceived expectations from his law firm.  The case is: In the Matter of Christopher Craig Anderson. No. 6304580 and the disciplinary Complaint is here: https://www.iardc.org/19PR0003CM.html

According to the Complaint filed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the lawyer had worked as an associate at Kirkland & Ellis before leaving to join Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, where he was promoted to nonequity partner. The lawyer started working for Kirkland & Ellis in 2011 and Neal Gerber in 2015 and both are large law firms.

According to the Complaint:

During his time at both firms, in an attempt to meet what he perceived to be the firms’ billing expectations, Respondent recorded time beyond what he had actually spent in handling client matters, knowing that the time he recorded would be billed to his clients and that they would be asked to pay fees based on the records he created. For the days that Respondent felt he had not recorded sufficient time on client matters, he increased the time he claimed to have spent on those matters based on a number of factors, including his assessment of the likelihood that the client would object to the time he recorded. As an example, if Respondent spent 0.3 hours on a client matter, he would record that he had actually spent 0.5 hours, or he would bill 2.1 hours for work that actually took him 1.7 hours to complete.

In August 2018, Respondent reported his conduct to one of the leaders of his practice group at Neal Gerber Eisenberg. The firm then conducted an inquiry into Respondent’s billing practices, at the conclusion of which it determined to offer a refund or credit to more than 100 clients who may have been affected by Respondent’s conduct. As a result, the firm offered to return funds that amounted to 20% of Respondent’s recorded time that was actually billed to and paid by the firm’s clients, which totaled more than $150,000. The Kirkland & Ellis firm, which also had not been aware of Respondent’s conduct at the time it was occurring, similarly determined to offer refunds or credits to clients affected by Respondent’s conduct.

A Kirkland & Ellis spokesperson provided a statement to the ABA Journal: “We recently learned that a former associate during the 2011-2015 timeframe may have rounded up his billable hours to certain clients.  We take these situations very seriously and are in the process of preparing refunds or credits for all potentially impacted time that was billed to any client.”

Bottom line:  This case is another unfortunate example of a lawyer inflating billable time to meet the expectations of his law firm(s), which are both considered to be large “BigLaw” firms; however, in this case, the lawyer self-reported his misconduct to his law firm and was terminated.

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 discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer excessive fee, Lawyer excessive fees, Lawyer improper fees, Lawyer inflating fees improper billing, Lawyer misrepresentations to law firm re billings

Florida Bar Supreme Court opinion provides guidance regarding ethical payments to fact witnesses in litigation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent (December 28, 2018) Florida Supreme Court opinion which discusses the ethical requirements surrounding witness fees and guidance lawyers regarding Florida Bar Rule 4-3.4(b) which prohibits inducements to fact witnesses to testify.  The case is: Trial Practices, Inc. v. Hahn Loeser & Parks, LLP etc. No. SC17-2058 and the opinion is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/425462/4585484/file/sc17-2058.pdf

The underlying case involved a dispute between two business partners.  One of the partners hired Trial Practices, Inc. (TPI) for consulting services in the litigation, which ended in a mistrial and was later settled.  After the settlement, TPI claimed the 5% fee based on the value of certain transferred property and the settlement of related litigation involving the partners.

The partner denied owing TPI the 5% fee and claimed that the settlement agreement was a “walk away” agreement with no “gross recovery” to either side.  TPI then sued the partner for breach of the consulting agreement and, in the trial that followed, the jury found for the partner on all issues.  The partner then pursued attorney’s fees and costs from TPI, which challenged the costs, including approximately $236,000.00 paid to “seven fact witnesses’ professional firms,” some of which helped prepare the settlement agreement in the original litigation.

The Second District Court of Appeal upheld most of the trial court’s award of costs and fees to the partner, but certified a question to the Supreme Court as to whether Bar Rule 4-3.4(b) allows payments to witnesses for case and discovery preparation.  The court slightly rephrased the certified question as: 

Whether under the Bar rule a fact witness could be paid for “case and discovery preparation that is not directly related to the witness preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings.” 

The opinion (written by Justice Charles Canady) answers that question in the negative and cautioned lawyers to be careful when compensating witnesses to avoid any perception they are trying to influence the testimony in violation of Florida Bar Rule 4-3.4(b).  That rule prohibits offering inducements to witnesses except for expenses related to testifying, a reasonable fee for expert witnesses, and the language in the pre-2014 version at issue in the case, “reasonable compensation to reimburse a witness for the loss of compensation incurred by reason of preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings…”.  Bar Rule 4-3.4 was amended in 2014 to remove “reimburse” and “loss of compensation” from the language since that language arguably prohibited lawyers from compensating witnesses who have no income.

The opinion states that Rule 4-3.4(b) involves the balancing of concerns over offering or paying inducements for testimony and recognizing the value of the time expended by the witness and providing an incentive to assist with the “truth-seeking function of the trial process.”

“Athough we conclude that ‘preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings’ can reasonably be interpreted to include certain ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation,’ we also reiterate the importance of rule 4-3.4(b) and the prohibition against improperly influencing witnesses…(o)ur disciplinary cases have repeatedly noted – both in the context of rule 4-3.4(b) and otherwise – the importance of avoiding even the appearance of improper influence. Although we do not find these disciplinary cases to be on point, we emphasize the narrow nature of the issue we address here.”

Further:

“permitting payments for any type of ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ would not only be inconsistent with the rule’s plain language but could open the door to purchasing testimony under the pretext of such ‘assistance’ and compromise the integrity of the fact-finding process – the very thing rule 4-3.4(b) is designed to prevent. We thus decline to broadly conclude that ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ is subsumed within ‘preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings…(h)owever, we also recognize – as this case demonstrates – that there is room for overlap between the two categories. We therefore also decline to adopt a view that effectively treats the two categories as mutually exclusive.

“We think the more appropriate inquiry is whether the witness’s ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ is directly related to the witness ‘preparing, attending, or testifying at proceedings.’ Although less than perfectly precise, viewing the payments through that narrower lens is consistent with the language of the rule and avoids prejudicing parties in highly complex cases such as this where they are dependent upon professionals.”

The opinion remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the decision.

Bottom line:  This opinion attempts to clarify the rule regarding ethical payments to fact witnesses in litigation which are not improper inducements and concludes that payments to fact witnesses are permitted only when the assistance of the witness with the case and discovery preparation is directly related to the witness preparing, attending, or testifying at proceedings.

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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Florida Bar Board of Governors approves Ethics Opinion addressing lawyer fee arrangements with qualifying providers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Board of Governor’s (BOG) unanimous approval of Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1 addressing fee arrangements between qualifying providers and participating lawyers to comply with amended Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22, which substantially revises the requirements for qualifying providers.  Ethics Opinion 18-1 is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2018/10/Proposed-Advisory-Op-18-1-website-10-12-18.pdf

At its December 14, 2018 meeting in Naples, the BOG approved Advisory Ethics Opinion 18-1, “Payments to Qualifying Providers/Lawyer Referral Services.” regarding for-profit qualifying providers, previously known as lawyer referral services, and related payment methods.  The BOG approved the Ethics Opinion unanimously without debate.

Under amended Bar Rule 4-7.22, which became effective in April 2018, a qualifying provider is, “any person, group, or persons, associations, organizations, or entities that receive any benefit or consideration, monetary or otherwise, for the direct or indirect referral of respective clients to the lawyers or law firm.”

The Comment to Rule 4-7.22 states:

“A lawyer may not participate with a qualifying provider that receives any legal fee that constitutes a division of legal fees with a non-lawyer unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to Chapter 8 of these rules,” the comment states. “A fee calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer, or based on the success or perceived value of the case, would be an improper division of legal fees…(a)dditionally, a fee that constitutes an improper division of fees occurs when the qualifying provider directs, regulates, or influences the lawyer’s professional judgement in rendering legal services to the client.”

Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1 lists the following factors which “mitigate in favor of a conclusion that the charge is permissible”:

  1. The charge is reasonably based on the qualifying provider’s costs for marketing and administration plus a reasonable profit; and
  2. the charge is imposed regardless of whether the lawyer is hired by the prospective client.

The opinion lists the following factors which would “mitigate in favor of a conclusion that the charge is impermissible”:

  1. The charge is based on the perceived value of the individual matter.
  2. The qualifying provider collects the lawyers’ fees directly from the consumer, takes a portion of the fee as the charge for the referral or match, then remits the remainder to the lawyer.
  3. The qualifying provider interferes with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in representing clients or directs the lawyer’s activities in representing clients.
  4. There is sufficient incentive for the qualifying provider to improperly solicit prospective clients or improperly market the service.

The opinion states that: “the board believes the following would be permissible:”

  1. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per time period such as weekly, monthly, or yearly;
  2. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge for each time a consumer views information about a specific lawyer, commonly referred to as “pay-per-click.”
  3. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per matter referred to the lawyer that is not contingent on the outcome of the matter and does not vary based on the amount at issue in the matter.
  4. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per matter referred to the lawyer that varies based on the type of matter only if the varying charge is based on demonstrably different marketing and administrative costs rather than the perceived value of the case.

The opinion states that: “the board believes the following would generally be impermissible”:

  1. A charge calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer.
  2. A charge calculated as a percentage of the client’s recovery in the matter.
  3. A charge based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  4. A flat charge that differs based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  5. A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer.
  6. A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer that differs based on the type of matter (e.g., personal injury versus family law).

The opinion states that it is designed solely to address what constitutes impermissible fee splitting, and that lawyers should not “assume that a lawyer may participate with a particular qualifying provider solely because the qualifying provider’s method of charging for its services falls within one of the methods the board concludes generally would be found to be permissible.”

Bottom line:  The Ethics Opinion identifies various fee arrangements between lawyers and qualifying providers which may or may not comply with the new rule.  Any lawyers who participate in (or are considering participating in) referrals from a private entity should carefully review this ethics opinion and the amended rule, since lawyers can be disciplined if the referral service (qualifying provider) fails to comply with the Florida Bar rules.

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 2018 Florida lawyer referral qualifying provider rule revisions, 2018 Florida lawyer referral service matching service rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar 2016 Lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 18-1 lawyer referral qualifying provider fees, Florida Bar ethics opinion qualifying provider- lawyer fees, Florida Bar lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar matching services, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer Referral Services

Florida Supreme Court approves amended rule permitting lawyers to charge clients for actual merchant credit costs

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent (1/4/19) Florida Supreme Court opinion approving a revision to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(h), which will permit lawyers to charge a client the actual cost of accepting a credit payment. The amended rule(s) become effective March 5, 2019.

The Florida Supreme Court issued the opinion after The Florida Bar filed an omnibus petition proposing amendments to various Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.  The opinion approved the proposed amendment to Bar Rule 4-1.5(h) as follows:

“to replace the provision that “[n]o higher fee shall be charged and no additional charge shall be imposed by reason of a lawyer’s or law firm’s participation in a credit plan” with a statement that “[l]awyers may charge clients the actual charge the credit plan imposes on the lawyer for the client’s transaction.” By so doing, we hereby allow lawyers to pass on the actual costs resulting directly from a client’s choice to pay a bill or invoice with a credit card, or make payments under a credit plan, to that client.”

Bottom line:  When it becomes effective on March 5, 2019, Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(h) will permit lawyers to charge the client the actual credit merchant charges.  This reverses the prior rule, which specifically prohibited charging the client for such merchant costs.

Be careful out there.

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

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, Florida Bar, Florida Bar rule permitting lawyers to charge clients with credit card merchant fees, Florida Bar rule permitting lawyers to charge credit card fees to clients, Florida Lawyers charging clients with merchant credit card charges, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer charging credit card fees to client

Louisiana Supreme Court disbars former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making anonymous improper internet comments

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which disbarred a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for making numerous anonymous improper and inflammatory comments on the internet related to pending criminal cases.  The disciplinary case is: Supreme Court of Louisiana v. In Re: Salvador R. Perricone, NO. 2018-B-1233 (12/5/18) and the link to the case is here:  https://www.ladb.org/DR/Default.aspx?DocID=9113&TAB=SC

According to the opinion, the underlying facts in the case were mostly undisputed.  The lawyer began employment as an Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 1991. At all times relevant to these proceedings, the lawyer was a Senior Litigation Counsel and the USAO’s training officer.

During the time period of the allegations in the Complaint, The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper maintained an Internet website called nola.com which permitted readers to post comments to news stories using pseudonyms and anonymous identities.

Beginning in November 2007 through March 14, 2012, the lawyer posted numerous comments on various subjects on nola.com, including statements about pending criminal cases to which he and other prosecutors were assigned. “Of the more than 2,600 comments respondent posted, between one hundred and two hundred – less than one percent – related to matters being prosecuted by (the U.S. Attorney’s Office). None of the comments identified respondent by name or as an employee of the USAO. Rather, respondent posted on nola.com using at least five online identities: ‘campstblue’, ‘legacyusa’, ‘dramatis personae’, “Henry L. Mencken1951’, and ‘fed up.’”

The anonymous comments included, inter alia, statements such as:

“Heebe’s (the defendant) goose is cooked.”

“I read the indictment…there is no legitimate reason for this type of behavior in such a short period of time and for a limited purpose. GUILTY!!!”

“Looks like Fazzio got a lemon. That book you refer to Mr. Rioux is about all of his losses. The guy is a clown and Fazzio is going down.”

The allegations were reported to the presiding judge who found the lawyer’s conduct improper and reversed the criminal convictions against the defendants and ordered a new trial.  The judge also found that the lawyer “viewed posting of highly-opinionated comments as a ‘public service.”  A disciplinary complaint was opened against the lawyer and, after disciplinary proceedings were completed, the Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of the Bar Rule violations and disbarred.

The Louisiana Supreme Court opinion rejected post-traumatic stress as mitigation and stated that “the focus of the inquiry in the instant case is on the second factor – namely, whether respondent’s PTSD caused the misconduct at issue. Based on our review of the record, we find no clear and convincing support for the conclusion that respondent’s mental condition may have caused his misconduct.”  After reviewing aggravating and mitigating factors and case law, the opinion further stated:

“In this age of social media, it is important for all attorneys to bear in mind that “[t]he vigorous advocacy we demand of the legal profession is accepted because it takes place under the neutral, dispassionate control of the judicial system.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1058 (1991). As the Court in Gentile wisely explained, “[a] profession which takes just pride in these traditions may consider them disserved if lawyers use their skills and insight to make untested allegations in the press instead of in the courtroom.” Id. Respondent’s conscious decision to vent his anger by posting caustic, extrajudicial comments about pending cases strikes at the heart of the neutral dispassionate control which is the foundation of our system. Our decision today must send a strong message to respondent and to all the members of the bar that a lawyer’s ethical obligations are not diminished by the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet.

In summary, considering respondent’s position of public trust as a prosecutor, his knowing and intentional decision to post these comments despite his acknowledgment that it was improper to do so, and the serious harm respondent’s conduct has caused both to individual litigants and to the legal profession as a whole, we must conclude he has failed to comply with the high ethical standards we require of lawyers who are granted the privilege to practice law in this state. The only appropriate sanction under these facts is disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This is another disciplinary case involving a criminal prosecutor improperly using the internet, this time it is a federal prosecutor who made biased and inflammatory comments.  The Louisiana Supreme Court (and other courts) have made it very clear that it will not tolerate lawyers, especially those in a position of “public trust”, who anonymously (or otherwise) make biased, improper, and inflammatory comments on the internet.

Be careful out there.

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

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

You are receiving this ETHICS ALERT since you are a current or former client or you have requested that this Update be sent to you.  Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERT any time.  If you would like to discontinue receipt of this ETHICS ALERT or if you would like to begin receiving it, simply send me an e-mail to me advising of your request.

If there are others at your firm who would like to be included on the distribution list, please feel free to forward this update to them or let us know in an email.  If you would like to forward this Ethics Alert to any person or entity please feel free do so as long as it is not for personal gain and you forward the entire email, including all contact information and disclaimers. 

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, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer inflammatory comments on internet about pending cases disbarment, Lawyer misconduct improper social media access, Lawyer sanctions, lawyer suspension social media misconduct, Lawyers and social media, Prosecutor disbarred for inflammatory anonymous comments on pending cases, Prosecutor misconduct discipline, Prosecutorial misconduct ethics