Thursday, July 9, 2009
A District Committee of the Virginia State Bar has imposed a public reprimand in a contested matter where an employee of the attorney had confided to her that she had never divorced her third husband before marrying husband number four. After the fourth husband had died, the employee sought the lawyer's advice about the possible detrimental effect of this information on her claims for veteran's benefits that she had applied for after the death.
There was then an employment dispute that led to a bar complaint and a claim for unemployment benefits. The attorney sent the now former employee an email threatening to notify the Veterans Administration of the problem. The lawyer sent a second email to the former employee advising her that the issue had been brought to the attention of a United States Attorney.
The committee found that the lawyer had breached the duty of confidentiality and presented or threatened to present charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter. Interestingly, the committee found "that it is not necessary to find that an attorney client relationship existed between [the attorney and employee] in order to trigger [the attorney's] obligations....under Rule 1.6." (Mike Frisch)