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The internet gets gutsy attorneys in trouble

Like any other group of professionals, attorneys are a collection of good, bad and indeterminable human beings. Therefore, while they, as members of the legal profession, are expected to promote the quality of justice,[1] they sometimes derail it. In fact, some of the most bizarre disputes arise out of ethical misconducts by attorneys. For example, “Clients” retained an attorney to represent them in their Chapter 13 bankruptcy in January 2005. In December 2010, the bankruptcy trustee issued a refund check for $8,725.35, payable to Clients. But for almost two and half years, the attorney did not disclose the existence of the check to Clients. Instead, he “fraudulently endorsed and deposited the check into an account that was not his attorney trust account, and thereafter used the proceeds for his own personal purposes.”[2]

Clients confronted the attorney in 2013 after discovering from the final report of the trustee that a check was issued. Having been exposed, the attorney issued a check in the amount of $8,725.35 to Clients, “drawn on an account other than his attorney trust account, but Clients were unable to negotiate the check due to insufficient funds in the account.” In October 2013, Clients filed a disciplinary grievance against the attorney in the Indiana Supreme Court.[3] The court ultimately disbarred the attorney from the practice of law in the state of Indiana.[4]

And now, as a more attorneys become computer savvy, their ethical violations relating to technology is also increasing.[5] Some attorneys misuse the internet in “unethical attempts to gain a competitive advantage over other attorneys.”[6] In May 2011 for example, a Pennsylvania district attorney circulated an e-mail instructing her deputies and assistants to use fake Facebook profiles that she has created “to befriend defendants or witnesses if you want to snoop.”[7] The district attorney claims that she got an opinion from an expert on “pretexting” who assured her that it was “ethical and appropriate” to befriend defendants using the “fake Facebook profiles she created with photographs of women whom bar authorities described as ‘buxom, scantily-clad young girls.’”[8] In the end however, the revelations regarding the district attorney’s use of fake Facebook profiles in addition to other allegations “triggered several post-conviction motions, including some that led appellate courts to vacate judgments against defendants.”[9]

Musah Abubakar

[1] According to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, “[a] lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” MODEL RULES OF PROF’L CONDUCT: PREAMBLE & SCOPE ¶ 1 (2011).

[2] In re Ouellette, 37 N.E.3d 490, 491 (Ind. 2015).

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 492.

[5]  IBLS Editorial Department- Staff Attorney, Legal and Ethical Implications of Computer Misuse by Attorneys, iBLS Internet Business Law Services, available at https://www.ibls.com/internet_law_news_portal_view.aspx?s=latestnews&id=2151.

[6] Id.

[7] Samson Habte, ‘Catfishing’ Brings Trouble for Pa. Prosecutor and N.Y. Lawyer, Bloomberg BNA, available at https://www.bna.com/catfishing-brings-trouble-n57982088205/.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.