March 24, 2011
Internet Posting Leads To Charge Of Confidentiality Breach
I regularly preach to law students about the danger of letting hurt feelings or anger govern one's behavior in the wake of being terminated by a client. The lesson comes in the discussion of Rule 1.16(d).
A complaint filed recently by the Illinois Administrator alleges such a violation. One of the counts contends that the attorney was discharged by the client in a domestic relations matter. Then:
On or about March 2007, [the client] informed Respondent that she was discharging him as her attorney, and that she was hiring John Cutright ("Cutright") to handle her case.
On March 27, 2007, Respondent withdrew from case number 2005 D 67, and Cutright entered his appearance for [the client].
After [the client] discharged Respondent and hired Cutright, Respondent became angry with her, and sent her a bill for additional fees, which [she] refused to pay.
In the fall of 2008, Respondent was a candidate for the office of Cumberland County State's Attorney. During his campaign, had a web site at www.mervinlwolfe.com.
On October 27, 2008, the local newspaper, the Toledo Democrat, published a letter from Respondent's former employee, Marilyn Henderson ("Henderson"). Henderson's letter was critical of Respondent and his candidacy for the position of State's Attorney. Respondent was aware of the letter. Respondent was aware that Henderson and [the client] were friends, and that [the client] had cared for Henderson's disabled son.
In November 2008 Respondent posted, or caused to be posted, on his web site www.mervinlwolfe.com, confidential information from [the client] he had received while he was her attorney, including her home address and social security number.
Respondent also posted, or caused to be posted, confidential information regarding [the client's] compensation for caring for Henderson's disabled child. Respondent also posted, or caused to be posted, confidential information from Henderson, including Henderson's social security number, address, a letter from the Illinois Department of Human Services regarding a fraud investigation pertaining to Henderson, information from Casey State Bank regarding an alleged forgery by Henderson, a decision from the State of Illinois Department of Employment Security regarding Henderson.
At no time did [the client] give Respondent permission to post her confidential information on the internet.
Anyone see a potential exam question here? (Mike Frisch)
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