Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Supreme Court of Ohio opinion imposing a one-year stayed suspension on a lawyer who filed a motion to withdraw which revealed attorney/client confidential information without the client’s permission or an exception authorizing the disclosure. The case is Cleveland Metro. Bar Assn. v. Heben, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-6965 (July 27, 2017) and the opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2017/2017-Ohio-6965.pdf
According to the opinion, the lawyer had briefly represented the client in 2008 during the initial stages of her divorce case. The divorce proceedings were still pending in September 2013 and the client again retained the lawyer for legal assistance. The parties stipulated to the following facts in the Bar matter: (1) the client paid the lawyer a $3,000 retainer on or about September 15, 2013, (2) the lawyer filed a notice of appearance in the divorce case on September 16, 2013, and (3) less than two weeks later, the client terminated the lawyer’s legal services.
After the client terminated his services, the lawyer moved to withdraw as counsel and also submitted a supporting affidavit purporting to state his reasons for seeking withdrawal with the motion. According to the opinion, in the affidavit, the lawyer “recounted communications he had had with (the client) about the scope of his representation and his compensation, accused her of refusing to pay his agreed-upon fees ‘without cause,’ and disclosed legal advice that he had given her. He also described (the client’s) discharge of him as ‘retaliatory’ and alleged that it had ‘occurred because of [his] advice to her concerning her objectionable and potentially illegal actions’ relating to her exhusband, which he characterized as ‘a problem similar to the one [he] experienced in [his] previous representation of her.’”
The judge in the divorce case struck the lawyer’s affidavit from the record and, in his testimony at the disciplinary hearing, the judge stated that he believed that the contents of the affidavit, specifically the disclosure of attorney/client communications, were inappropriate and not necessary to seek withdrawal.
The opinion imposed a one-year suspension which was stayed on the condition that he “commit no further misconduct.” Two justices dissented and “would suspend respondent for one year with six months stayed”, which was the recommendation of the Disciplinary Board.
Bottom line: As this case again illustrates, lawyers must never reveal confidential attorney/client confidences in court documents, including a Motion to Withdraw, unless the client authorizes the disclosure or an exception applies which would permit or require the disclosure.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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