Wednesday, July 18, 2007
A Florida attorney was retained to represent a mother in a case involving unpaid child support. The father had allegedly "fraudulently transferred stock to his mother" to circumvent his obligations. The mother-in-law hired counsel to represent her interests.
The mother-in-law had a personal assistant who approached the mother directly regarding a possible settlement. At his client's request, the lawyer drafted the proposal, but "had no expectation that the documents he drafted would be returned to him executed." To his suprise, the personal assistant returned the proposal bearing the mother-in-law's purported signature.
The lawyer had legitimate reasons to doubt that the mother-in-law's signature was genuine. The personal assistant had been "accused of stealing the mother-in-law's automobile" and had sought the lawyer's services in that matter. The lawyer did not inform opposing counsel of the executed agreement until it was presented at a hearing. The lawyer informed the court that he did not have independant corrorobation of the signature. Although the mother-in-law denied she had signed, the agreement was enforced and still stands.
The Florida Bar bought ethics charges. The attorney contended that his concerns regarding authenticity justified withholding the agreement from opposing counsel. The Florida Supreme Court held that "this was not his decision to make." The attorney had "deliberately and knowingly concealed the agreement from opposing counsel because he did not want counsel involved" (quoting the referee's report). The attorney was found to have concealed evidence and engaged in dishonest conduct. A 91 day suspension was imposed. (Mike Frisch)