The Betrayal of J.K. Rowling

Mr. Gossage may have a difficult time practicing law in his new body...

Mr. Gossage may have a difficult time practicing law in his new body…

J.K. Rowling, she of “Harry Potter” fame, had a secret. She had written a detective novel using a pen name, a not unusual tactic for an author identified with a particular genre who wants to diversify without the handicap of reader and critic biases. The usual course, as practiced by other popular writers like Stephen King, is to launch the new novel or novels under a pseudonym (King’s was Richard Bachman), harvest positive reviews and healthy sales without their true identities being known, and then give sales another boost by tearing off the mask.

But Robert Galbraith, author of the detective novel “Cuckoo’s Calling,” was outed to the press as Ms. Rowling prematurely, and Harry’s creator was understandably miffed. Who did it?  All the suspects shrugged,looked behind them, and exclaimed, “Not me!”, perhaps afraid of being turned into a rat, a fate the inventor of Hogwarts is probably capable of executing. Finally, however, the truth emerged: the culprit was one of her lawyers.

The British entertainment law firm Russells represents Rowling, and one of its soon-to-be-ex partners, Chris Gossage, couldn’t keep his bloody gob shut. He told one of his wife’s friends about Rowling’s secret identity, and that “friend,” sworn to secrecy, told a newspaper reporter. So much for the secret.

Gossage, in the process of apologizing publicly while his firm filled out his severance papers, said that he made the disclosure “in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly.” He needs to find, not another law firm, but another profession, like maybe “professional traitor.”  Keeping client confidences is the most hallowed duty of the legal profession, and it means not disclosing a client’s secrets without authorization and consent to A-N-Y-O-N-E, including one’s deaf mute mother, priest confessor, or someone who had previously refused to give up their ATM code despite being waterboarded by Dick Cheney. There is no such thing as disclosing a client’s confidences to a third party “in confidence,” because doing so is a breach of confidence the second the information  crosses the lawyer’s unethically flapping lips.

As for Gossage’s blabber-mouthed friend, Judith Callegari—nice one, you creep. You couldn’t resist making yourself into an Andy Warhol fifteen-minute starlet by destroying your lawyer-friend’s credibility, reputation and quite possibly his career (not that he doesn’t deserve it) and undermining Rowling, who never did anything to you except possibly being responsible for making you sit through the series of progressively unwatchable Harry Potter films with your kids. Shame on you.

We can only hope that Callegari also pays a high price for her perfidy, and that rumors that she is interviewing with Booz Allen are false.


Source: Washington Post

29 thoughts on “The Betrayal of J.K. Rowling

    • She had a time machine! And never used it for anythin other than skipping class! Bad writing! Horrible!

      Sorry. But seriously. Time machine.

      • Hey now, TECHNICALLY she only used it for going to DOUBLE classes. So, you know, maybe the resident genius character should have figured out that time travel could be useful, whereas a truant could be excused….

        Anyway, the books are enjoyable, she just forgot that you can never introduce time travel to any story without making a giant plot-abyss.

  1. Do you have a source on the firm signing severance papers and firing the leak? It’s not in the article…

    (Or any other article I’ve read on the affair as of yet…)

  2. Holy cow. That’s crazy. According to my entertainment lawyer husband, the rumor is that this is a “staged leak” because her book wasn’t doing well until the secret was released. I really hope this isn’t the case.


      I am so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

  3. To paraphrase someone…The only way to keep a secret is to tell no-one. As soon as the second person knows, it’s no longer a secret. Same could be said for client-attorney privilege.

  4. I have seen reports from London that, within 72 hours of the ‘leak’, posters for the book were somehow designed, printed, and displayed on the subway. The book cover has also apparently been redesigned and uses her real name, so they managed to get a couple hundred thousand of those turned around pretty quickly as well.

    • Still very unlikely, because a lawyer admitting gross indiscretion and betrayal of client confidence is ruinous for him and his firm. My guess is that the roll-out was in the works, but launched per-maturely.

      • The firm, Russells,,specifically denies any complicity in a marketing scheme, so your guess may be correct. In any case, it looks as if the many people involved in the current campaign for the newly packaged book were all able to keep their mouths shut, whereas the solicitor simply couldn’t resist passing along a bit of celebrity gossip. Next time I require total confidentiality, I’m going with a typesetter!

      • It is true that a client of a lawyer or law firm has the right to expect confidentiality.

        It is also true that a client in seeking representation (confidential trust of funds) has the responsibility to ensure that the professionals are what they claim to be. It is a reciprocal relationship; the principle or axiom of caveat emptor is important in this case.

        It is possible that she is taking an opportunistic payout and using the law to her own gain.

        • No, if they are professionals, especially lawyers, their license is all that should be necessary. There is no obligation for a client to check whether a professional whose profession requires honesty, discretion, loyalty and competence is as trustworthy as he is holding himself out to be.

          • Since when? Hiring someone to represent oneself in a sensitive matter, that begets trust, would necessitate an obligation of diligence in ensuring that said professional is up to standards. This goes to what the point of reciprocal relationship and understanding the finer points of each person’s own responsibility.

          • What I am essentially pointing out is that placards with initials and ostensible professional associations can and have been hung as advertising for many years. Many of them are verifiable and ethical, but also there are those that aren’t. What I am hearing from you is a position of advocating blind faith based on placard credentials; setting the stage for unethical victimology and potential manipulation and usery.

            What I am pointing out is that there is also a duty on the needy to be diligent. Wise and cautious diligence in choosing a professional manifests veracity in the claimant. Whereas, lack of diligence, leaves the door open for neglect and confusion; a stage ripe for blaming the other guy.

  5. The whole thing smells. From what is being reported, Gossage breached confidentiality. It doesn’t end there, though. Rowling’s acceptance of a payout from him, notwithstanding her donating it to charity, would in my books put her into some form of collusion with unethical choices. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. In other words, if one cries wolf that one is betrayed, yet then accepts a monetary penance, that points away from a sense of ethical betrayal.

    Callegari, the wife’s friend who leaked the news, was under no confidentiality agreement. Whilst interesting and informative with regard to context in this case, the gist of how Callegari came to know the supposedly secret information, is irrelevant. Ethically, she is not beholden to keep the secret, because she is a third party.

    We don’t know the context of how Callegari was informed. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, that Gossage thought the ‘people ought to know’ or just couldn’t let the Harry-Potter-author-pseudonym secret story go by un-newsflashed. Hence, giving lip service to secrecy. Gossage made it known that he was broadcasting (ie. ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink). For Callegari to then go on and broadcast the ‘secret’ on Twitter, is then logical and not against strict ethics.

    • I’m puzzled that you have a problem with damages going to a client who was the victim of malpractice and a breach of loyalty. That’s the only effective way to discourage lawyer who are otherwise inclined to do such things from breaching confidentiality: take their money.

      • American Constitutional Legal History is the last law course I completed, many years ago, so bear with me if my understanding of the intricacies of law are sketchy, and please correct me if I am mistaken in any of the following. Law and ethics were (and still are) a related field of study to Modern Western history and political science.

        The issue at hand in this case, as I see it outlined in your blog and subsequent comments, is being confused by melding two distinct areas of law and ethics. The first area is one of professional ethics (and trust). The second area concerns civil law and damages, in which equity is the rule of thumb. Thus, there are two separate cases in the issue of J.K. Rowling and the blabbermouth lawyer.

        The first case is one of breach of confidentiality. The penalty for this should be loss of professional license. I’m a zero tolerance advocate of ethics on this area; first breach results in the confiscation of professional license to practice. No gimmees. The principle behind this is that this protects the professional standards of a society. Examples of other licensed practitioners held to this standard would be religious ministers, psychologists (and the ever-increasing multitude of so-called counseling professions), and medical doctors.

        The second, and separate case is one of fiduciary damages. In this case, J.K. Rowling has a leg to stand on in exacting justice for the damage done (possibly). Whether the leak did in fact cause loss of potential income is questionable at this point in time.

        However, the hasty timing of the monetary settlement is slightly questionable. Therefore, I am of the position of not giving Rowling the benefit of the doubt regarding whether she was betrayed. In the case of damages, there is generally an ‘innocent’ party or victim. The context and image – presentation by Rowling leaves room for questionable ethics on her part and I would not be hasty with pinning her as not culpable as well.

  6. In the spirit of this blog post, I am writing under a pseudonym.

    I am writing not in regards your general point, but rather to clarify a related topic. The media frequently claims confidentiity is absolute when it is not. Confidentiity is not absolute, but rather subject to numerous exceptions. These exceptions are not relevant to the leak, but I am pointing them out because much of the public incorrectly assumed confidentiality is absolute. Many exceptions do not appear directly in the rule but instead arise through the operation of other Rules of Professional Conduct, court rules, or law.

    For example, the discovery process in civil litigation requires turning over a wide range of preexisting documents, and the attorney cannot allow a client to commit perjury in depositions. Even in criminal cases, a defendant’s attorney must turn over physical evidence that was given to him by the client and cannot allow his client to give false testimony.

    There are also exceptions for disputes between lawyers and clients, and for lawyers accused of misconduct by a third party while representing a client.

    None of these exceptions are relevant to the above scenario – I just wanted to clarify that the doctrine of confidentiality is not absolute.

    • Some of your examples don’t apply to what the law regards as confidentiality, though. Privileged information—what is told to a lawyer to get legal advice, is virtually absolute with narrowly drawn exceptions, mostly involving information that can be used to stop a crime or death, or common sense: if a client is suing a lawyer and something the client told the lawyer would prove the accusation false, the client can hardly claim that the lawyer can’t defend himself. Secrets or confidences are what a lawyer learns about a client in the course of the representation, and those can be compelled to be revealed by court order, but otherwise the lawyer has to shut up. That;s the distinction—between privileged information and confidential, that is most misunderstood, even, sadly, by a lot of attorneys.

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