It’s unethical for a lawyer to play a sad violin over Facebook??? Why yes, it is!
Eric Michael Gamble was representing a biological father opposed to the adoption of his daughter, which had been approved by the 18-year-old mother.
After Gamble deposed the young woman, he messaged her on Facebook in a shamelessly manipulative fashion, saying…
‘I wish to offer you some reasons why you should stand up and fight for your daughter. As you know, I am the attorney for [the biological father]. We held your deposition in my office. I wanted to give you the chance to make things right. This may be your last opportunity to be a mom for [the baby]. As I told you after your deposition in my office, it is not too late. You still have a wonderful opportunity to have a real relationship with your daughter if you so choose. I have attached a document for you to consider signing and bringing to court or to my office. It is a revocation of your consent to adopt. If you sign this document there is a very good chance that you will be able to call [the baby] your own and [the baby] will call you her mom. I can’t begin to explain how beautiful and wonderful parenthood is. I have a little girl myself and she is my world just like you are your dad’s world. [The baby] deserves to know her parents. She deserves to know that you love her and care for her as well. Do not let this opportunity pass you by because you will live with this decision the rest of your life and [the baby] will know someday what happened. [The adoptive parents] do not legally have to ever let you see her again after court (although they are probably trying to convince you otherwise with the idea of an ‘open adoption’). The reason why you don’t know about the trial was because they don’t want you there because that doesn’t help [the adoptive parents] case. This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves. She deserves to have her parents love and care for her. She deserves to know her grandparents and extended family. If she’s adopted, she won’t have that chance. [The biological father] wants to be her dad and to love her. She deserves that. I urge you to print, sign, and notarize this document and bring it to my office before court. Trial is June 27, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse, Division 15. I hope to see you and your father there.’
What’s wrong with this? The legal ethics rules protect unrepresented parties in a matter from exactly this sort of pressure. Rule 4.3, in Kansas and elsewhere, prohibits a lawyer from giving advice to adversaries of his or her client, which statements like “This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves” clearly are. The rules also require lawyers to treat all participants in the justice system with fairness and respect. That message constitutes neither. Rule 4.4 says that “In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.” Gamble has a defense, of course: his substantial purpose was to have the adoption dropped like his client wanted, but since he wasn’t supposed to be talking to her anyway (other than to advise her to get a lawyer), that wasn’t going to fly. Rule 8.4, meanwhile, says that a lawyer must not “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
After he lost the case, Gamble reported himself for the Rule 4.3 violation. This is usually a good tactic to encourage lenient treatment, but in this case, it didn’t work. In suspending Gamble for six months, the Kansas Supreme Court seemed to invoke all three of the violated rules, as it wrote,
“…As the hearing panel noted, respondent “attempted to manipulate the biological mother and, as a result, interfered with justice.” Respondent’s conduct “amounted to emotional blackmail” of an unrepresented 18-year-old who was dealing with a process that was already “‘emotionally exhausting.'” His “electronic message was designed to embarrass, burden, and create guilt in the mind of the biological mother.” These “bullying tactics directly reflect on [respondent’s] fitness to practice law as an attorney.” Consequently, we hold that the respondent should be suspended for a period of 6 months. A minority of the court would impose a longer period of suspension. We unanimously order a reinstatement hearing under Rule 219.”
And the social media claims another victim.
Addendum: I was remiss, in posting this, not noting that the underlying issue in the lawsuit is a far more serious and complex ethical and legal one than the topic of this post: the matter of unwed mothers putting their new borns up for adoption without the father’s consent or participation. That has been a battle royale on Ethics Alarms twice, and you can review it here.
Pointer: ABA Journal
Facts: Legal Profession Blog