Do Not Bribe a Judge, Ignore the Disciplinary Commission, or Create a Conflict with your Clients

Even Attempting to Bribe a Judge is not Good Conduct

An attempt to bribe a judge is not a good thing for a lawyer to try to do, hiding it and then getting caught makes for the basis for a Slap-down by the subsequent judge.

When the investigating judge uses 123 pages to describe, in part, the evidence of the bribe attempt by the Eaton Corp.’s company lawyer Mark McGuire, it is the beginning of a bad time.  You can read the article here and see the links it has to the ruling.  Bad days start with these kinds of rulings. It will likely get much worse in the coming days for McGuire.

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Cooperate and Respond when you get the Certified Letter

Among the most important days in a lawyer’s life is the receipt of a certified letter from the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s Executive Director.  Not a pleasant day, but an important one.  This letter means that someone has filed a complaint that you broke the Rules of Professional Conduct and your license is now at risk.  It happened to James Nafe, twice, and he got in trouble for not responding either time. In March 2012, and again in April he was Suspended from the Practice of Law for Noncooperation.

Lawyers must take the disciplinary process seriously, and if they don’t the Disciplinary Commission will ask the Supreme Court to suspend their license to practice. There are few other actions that can be taken at that time.  Nafe got suspended for a complaint that has not yet been made public, so we would not know that there are complaints against him (yet) if he had contacted the Commission. At that time he is to respond with his version of the events, or better yet, hired an experienced lawyer to walk with him through the process.

The suspensions finally got his attention, since on May 15, 2012 the Supreme Court terminated the Noncooperation Suspension by a published Order here for the first case, and here for the second case. Don’t get yourself in a box like this. Even lawyers need lawyers sometimes.

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Who is the Client?

When two people come to see you about a problem the first question must be, can I represent both people as clients? Lawyers like to help people — we want to solve our clients’ problems, but inadequate analysis of the potential clients’ needs can cause real trouble.  Todd Wallsmith tried to help two brothers whose father had disinherited them. After a while the brothers disagreed on case tactics, then case substance, and rather than obtain separate counsel for one of the brothers, he tried to handle both their claims, which diverged even more. The lawyer finally agreed with the other side on an issue, with one of the client’s consents, but without the other’s. As their agent, he had the power to consent, but not the authority for the one. The case blew up between the lawyer and the one client.

The lawyer and Commission agreed to a disposition of the complaint which was submitted to the Supreme Court. It found that there were four Rule violations, and as a penalty it suspended the lawyer’s license to practice law for 180 days, then withheld the full suspension in favor of 45 days suspension and 24 months of probation. A good result due to the circumstances. Also a good lesson for lawyers across the country.

Avoiding conflicts in the interests of each of your clients — when there are multiple clients — is not easy. Clients do not like to be told that you cannot take care of all of them, but sometimes you can’t. In some cases in some states multiple client representation is forbidden, in other cases it is merely a minefield.

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