March 4, 2008
Is "I Will Sue You Into Bankruptcy" a Permissible Coda to a "Govern Yourself Accordingly" Letter?
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that the lawyer for Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl sent a "govern yourself accordingly" letter to a fan running the firegeorgekarl.com blog.
While the Law Blog focuses on the merits of the question whether anything on the blog is actionable, notwithstanding New York Times v. Sullivan, I have a different question.
The letter concluded: "As Coach Karl’s counsel I am putting you on notice that I will sue you into bankruptcy should you cross the boundaries of permissible speech." I assume that the lawyer does not know how much it would take to sue this blogger into bankruptcy (maybe the reason he has so much time to blog is that he's independently wealthy). Having never used this phrase, nor been the recipient of a letter using this phrase, I'm not sure off the top of my head whether anything in the Model Rules prohibits this particular hyperbole.
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The most pertinent Model Rule dealing with such a threat is Rule 4.4(a), which states:
"In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person."
The "no substantial purpose other than" language makes enforcement by means of a bar prosecution a very difficult task. I teach a case from New Hampshire (Kalil's Case), where the lawyer threatened to "rip the face off" a pro se opposing client and falsely denied the threat to the judge. The remark was overheard by another attorney, who corroborated the threat.
Posted by: Mike Frisch | Mar 4, 2008 4:41:18 PM