Wednesday, June 2, 2010
An Arizona Hearing Officer has recommended a censure of a California attorney admitted pro hac vice in Arizona for a conflict of interest and the negligent disclosure of confidential client information.
The tangled web of the representation of the client as a plaintiff in civil litigation started with the attorney giving legal advice to the plaintiff while they were dating. The client was initially represented by Lawyer One, but the client convinced the attorney to serve as co-counsel. At the time, the attorney was aware that the client was also dating Lawyer Two, who was admitted in Arizona. Lawyer One withdrew and Lawyer Three agreed to become local counsel. When Lawyer Three withdrew, Lawyer Two replaced him as local counsel in the litigation.
Remarkably, the client was then simultaneously represented by two woman that he was currently dating. Lawyer Two was permitted to withdraw after she accused the client of assaulting her. However, the two reconciled. Lawyer Two then contacted the attorney and asked to help with the trial preparation. The attorney responded with information about the case, which led to the finding of a breach of the duty of confidentiality. The attorney testified that she believed she had the client's permission to make the disclosures to Lawyer Two. The attorney also believed that California rules prohibited her from seeking to withdraw from the case.
Matters got worse when the attorney alleged that the client twice asaulted her. The client was charged with seven felonies for the attacks and entered into a plea bargain. He is subject to a 20 year criminal restraining order whereby he may not contact or harass the attorney.
The hearing officer found that the attorney "stayed in the case long beyond a point when she should have." While the attorney contended that she was able to "compartmentalize" her personal and professional feelings, "the language of the e-mail she sent to [Lawyer Two] would say otherwise...the fact that [information] was disclosed as well as the fact that Respondent found herself in a difficult situation with [the client] further supports why the rules discourage a personal relationship between an attorney and a client."
The client "injected himself into [the attorney's] divorce proceedings by making false claims and testimony..." and was sanctioned for suing the attorney for legal malpractice. (Mike Frisch)