Two Ohio lawyers receive stayed six-month suspensions for violating client confidences while engaged in a personal relationship

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court Order imposing a six month stayed suspension on two lawyers who violated client confidences while engaged in a personal romantic relationship.  The case style is: The Disciplinary Counsel v. Holmes and Kerr, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4308 and the opinion is here:  https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-4308.pdf

According to the stipulated facts, the lawyers began a romantic relationship after meeting at a conference in November 2014. They represented different public school districts and were employed by different law firms.  Between January 2015 and November 2016, the lawyers exchanged more than a dozen e-mails in which they disclosed confidential client information.

According to the opinion, one of the lawyers (Kerr) generally forwarded e-mails from her clients asking for documents to the other lawyer (Holmes), who then provided the legal documents that he had prepared for clients with similar requests.  According to the opinion, “In about one-third of these email exchanges, Holmes had ultimately completed Kerr’s work for her.”

The opinion further states that Holmes was terminated from his law firm in June 2016 after the disclosure of confidential client information was discovered.  A partner in Holmes’ law firm then filed a Bar complaint against Holmes and notified Kerr’s firm about the confidential e-mail exchanges.  Notwithstanding the termination and notification, the lawyers continued to trade information. Kerr resigned from her law firm in November 2016.

Both lawyers stipulated to a violation of two Bar rules: improper disclosure of confidential information, and conduct which adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.  The opinion states: “We agree that Holmes and Kerr engaged in the stipulated misconduct and that based on our precedent, a stayed six-month suspension is appropriate. We therefore adopt the parties’ consent-to-discipline agreements.”

Bottom line: This is a rare example of lawyers who were involved in a personal relationship being disciplined for violating attorney/client confidentiality.  The Ohio disciplinary agency was advised of the lawyers’ conduct by a partner in one of the lawyer’s firm, and both lawyers stipulated that they had violated Bar rules related to confidentiality and conduct adversely reflecting the lawyer’s fitness to practice.  Unless there is an exception or the client consents, confidential information cannot be provided to another person or otherwise disseminated.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
This entry was posted in Attorney discipline, Attorney ethics, attorney-client privilege, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege, Confidential Information, Confidentiality, corsmeier, joe corsmeier, joseph corsmeier, Lawyer conduct that adversely reflects on fitness to practice, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions revealing client confidences to lawyer with romantic relationship, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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