Reminder: Hateful Racist Mass Murderers Have The Same Rights You Do

Dylann Roof, the white supremacist sentenced to death after killing nine black church members as an attempt to start a race war, asked a court to replace his appointed appellate lawyers because they “are my political and biological enemies.” The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request.

Roof’s pro se motion stated that his lawyers, Alexandra Yates and Sapna Mirchandani, “are Jewish and Indian, respectively. It is therefore quite literally impossible that they and I could have the same interests relating to my case.”  Roof had difficulties on the same basis with his court-appointed lawyer, David Bruck, during his trial. The murderer wrote  in his motion that Bruck is Jewish and “his ethnicity was a constant source of conflict even with my constant efforts to look past it.”

I have been shocked at the reaction of the legal profession, the news media and the public to the 4th Circuit’s ruling. It really does appear that all the education in the world, ethics rules, principles and the Constitution will still be steamrolled by hate and emotion, even when crucial, indeed existential values for our society are at stake. My trust and respect for all professions—all of them—have been grievously reduced by their conduct and ethics blindness over that past several months. No wonder the First Amendment is under attack. No wonder our institutions are being weakened to the point of collapse.

The public literally  not understand the principle I am going to explain now. Apparently naively, I thought lawyers, judges and law professors did. In the interest of clarity, I am going to do this in short, straightforward segments.

I. The Court’s ruling is not just wrong, but frighteningly wrong.

Roof, like all citizens accused of a crime, has a right to a competent, zealous legal defense. A  competent, zealous legal defense requires that the defendant be able to participate fully in that defense. If a defendant does not or cannot trust his lawyers, he cannot be assured of a competent, zealous legal defense.

II. A client has to trust his lawyer.

It doesn’t matter why a client doesn’t trust his lawyer, and the lawyer need not agree that the lack of trust is warranted. The question is whether a lawyer who is not trusted by his client can do an adequate job representing him. The answer is no. The Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a fair trial and legal representation in criminal cases, is not there for the lawyers, or courts, or government. It exits to protect the accused—all accused.

In a famous medical ethics case, an elderly Korean man in a hospital wanted his doctors, specialists in his malady, replaced because they were Japanese-Americans, and as a survivor of the horrors Japan inflicted on Korea, he was convinced that they would kill him. The hospital ethics committee held that he was an irrational bigot, and that he either had to accept the qualified physicians despite their race, or get out. The AMA disagreed. It said that the patient’s welfare is paramount in medical ethics, and a patient who does not trust his doctors—the reason doesn’t matter—will have his welfare and health endangered as a result.

The same principle should apply to Roof. A client who does not trust his lawyer will not, for example, be candid with him, or trust him to keep confidences.

Under the circumstances Roof described, the lawyers have an ethical obligation to withdraw. Two rules are involved:

Client-Lawyer Relationship
Rule 1.7 Conflict Of Interest: Current Clients

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.

(b) Notwithstanding the existence of a concurrent conflict of interest under paragraph (a), a lawyer may represent a client if:

(1) the lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;

(2) the representation is not prohibited by law;

(3) the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the lawyer in the same litigation or other proceeding before a tribunal; and

(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing. Continue reading

More On The Unethical Sally Yates: Her Conflict Of Interest Deception

...and you shouldn't have accepted the job, either.

…and you shouldn’t have accepted the job, either.

Here is another ethics aspect of the disgraceful Sally Yates episode that the complicit news media isn’t covering: it was unethical for her to accept the job of acting Attorney General in the first place.

She had an apparent conflict of interest when she was offered the job. This is indisputable; it’s just being ignored by fawning partisans. Here is the applicable ethics rule of Yates’ bar and jurisdiction:

Rule 1.7–Conflict of Interest: General Rule

(a) A lawyer shall not advance two or more adverse positions in the same matter.

(b) Except as permitted by paragraph (c) below, a lawyer shall not represent a client with respect to a matter if:

(1) That matter involves a specific party or parties and a position to be taken by that client in that matter is adverse to a position taken or to be taken by another client in the same matter even though that client is unrepresented or represented by a different lawyer;

(2) Such representation will be or is likely to be adversely affected by representation of another client;

(3) Representation of another client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by such representation;

(4) The lawyer’s professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer’s responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer’s own financial, business, property, or personal interests.

(c) A lawyer may represent a client with respect to a matter in the circumstances described in paragraph (b) above if

(1) Each potentially affected client provides informed consent to such representation after full disclosure of the existence and nature of the possible conflict and the possible adverse consequences of such representation; and

(2) The lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.

(d) If a conflict not reasonably foreseeable at the outset of representation arises under paragraph (b)(1) after the representation commences, and is not waived under paragraph (c), a lawyer need not withdraw from any representation unless the conflict also arises under paragraphs (b)(2), (b)(3), or (b)(4). Continue reading

Now THIS Is A Conflict Of Interest…Or Is It?

alton_attorney_accidentally_sues_himself

Is it a conflict of interest for a lawyer to represent a client suing herself? Lawyers are all forbidden to bring adverse actions against their own clients; it is the conflict of all conflicts, a pure breach of loyalty. Does this mean, then, that even when a statute requires a plaintiff to sue herself as a defendant, it can’t be done without breaching the ethics rules?

The case is Bagley v, Bagley, and both Bagleys are the same Bagley.

State Farm Insurance Company handled Barbara Bagley’s car insurance. She was driving when her car flipped and killed her common law husband.  To compel State Farm to indemnify her, Bagley, in her dual capacities as sole heir and personal representative of the estate of her husband, was required to bring this suit against herself as the negligent driver. Bagley as plaintiff and as her husband’s heir brought a cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-106, Utah‘s wrongful death statute, alleging that the defendant—her— negligently caused her, that is, the plaintiff’s husband’s death, thereby depriving his sole heir –the plaintiff, but also the defendant—of his “love, companionship, society, comfort, care, protection, financial support, pleasure, and affection.”  She also brought a second cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-107, Utah‘s survival action statute, alleging that the defendant—her again— negligently caused the deceased to experience pain and suffering prior to his death, entitling Bagley’s late husband’s estate to other damages. Continue reading

North Carolina’s Conflicted, Disloyal, Unethical Attorney General, Roy Cooper

A candidate masquerading as a lawyer...

A candidate masquerading as a lawyer…

Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s elected Attorney General, has so many conflicts of interest that he can’t credibly do his job in an ethical manner. Fortunately for him doing his job ethically seems to hold no interest for him.

To start with, he is an announced political opponent of the current Republican governor, Pat McCrory. This situation is not unique, but if an Attorney General is going to do his job ethically, for remember he is the state’s lawyer, he has to make an effort to put his political interests aside and not allow them to interfere with his duty to represent his client the state, whose voters have made McCrory its top decision-maker.

Cooper, however, isn’t making any such effort. House Bill 2, a state law passed last week that bars local governments from enacting nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community, is anathema to Cooper’s constituency, so he is refusing to defend it in court against a federal lawsuit. If he were a private attorney whose beliefs rendered it impossible for him to represent his client, Cooper would have to resign. Since he is elected, he need not do that, but he can’t actively interfere with his client’s legal needs either. His proper course under the legal ethics rules governing all lawyers would be to find an outside counsel to do his job in this case, since he is incapable of doing it, and to defend the law.

Instead, Cooper is actively undermining his client’s legitimate objectives.  Cooper said in a news conference that the law is a “national embarrassment” and it “will set North Carolina’s economy back if we don’t repeal it.” That’s the candidate talking, not the state’s lawyer, and thus the state’s lawyer is engaged in a bright-line breach of loyalty by talking like that in public. His duty, and his only ethical option, is to shut up. He may not be able to support his client’s objectives, but he absolutely must not impede them.

Cooper has even gone beyond that ethical violation to a massive conflict of interest breach. Instead of defending McCrory, the Board of Governors and the others being sued in the federal lawsuit, Cooper has announced that he will defend the two LGBT people and the lesbian professor bringing the lawsuit against the state! Continue reading

“CSI” Ethics: Now THAT Was An Unethical Fictional Lawyer…

CSIWow. That was one unethical lawyer on CBS’s “CSI” last night, and I mean even before we found out that he had stolen a vile of an Ebola-like virus and used it to murder a doctor, almost setting off a viral epidemic in Las Vegas. (Gee, I wonder where the writers got the idea for that story? See, we don’t have to argue about politicians causing panic over Ebola: the entertainment media is way, way ahead of them.) Among the lawyer’s ethical transgressions:

1. He set out to use his law degree to gain access, through employment, to a company he blamed for allowing a deadly virus to wipe out his family in South America. Needless to say, this is a blatant conflict of interest, indeed, the worst one for a lawyer I have ever heard of in fact or fiction. He wanted to represent a corporate client so he could destroy it.  This is a clear breach of Model Rule 1.7:

(b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by… a personal interest of the lawyer.

Now, that conflict could be waived if the client were fully informed of the fact that its lawyer wanted to destroy it, and the client didn’t mind. That seems unlikely to me.

2. When it looked like his murder was going to set off a deadly epidemic, the lawyer decided to let CSI know that his client the biotech firm had lied about none of its supply of the virus being missing. He knew it was missing, because he had stolen it. The failure of a lawyer to remedy a client’s lie to police about a crime isn’t unethical in a criminal defense setting, but it is unethical if the lawyer would be aiding in another crime by doing so, which was the case here. Moreover, he is involved in the crime, unknown to his client. This would be a disqualifying conflict even if the one described above didn’t exist.

3, He also has an obligation under the ethics rules (Model Rule 1.4) to inform his client about matters relevant to the representation that the client needs to know, like “By the way, about that missing vial of deadly hemorrhagic virus you don’t want to tell the police about? I took it.”

4. THEN, he surreptitiously taped an employee and representative of the company who thought he was also representing her (if he wasn’t, he has an ethical obligation to make that clear—it’s called a “corporate Miranda warning.”) While it is legal in Nevada to secretly tape a conversation you are participating in, it is virtually never ethical for  a lawyer to do this with a client (That’s misrepresentation, violating Rule 8.4 in Nevada) , who is assured that her communications with her lawyer will be privileged, and held in strictest confidence under the attorney-client relationship.

5. Now, if the reason for the lawyer making the recording and handing it over to Ted Danson had been what CSI first assumed it was—that he was trying to save lives in imminent danger and deemed the revelation of a client confidence the only way to prevent it—he would have some support in the ethics rules, for there is an exception to the duty of confidentiality that can justify that.*  That wasn’t his motive, however, at least not all of it. He was also trying to make sure that the company—his client, which he was trying to destroy in revenge for his family’s deaths—was blamed for the virus that he had released. He had no justification for violating Rule 1.6, which says that a lawyer must keep client confidences.

6. Also, since he was representing both the employee he secretly taped and the company itself, he would have been obligated to report what she told him—evidence of a crime implicating the company–to his corporate client before reporting it to authorities, so the corporate client could report the lost vial itself, or at least have that option. If the attorney was going to exercise the “death or serious bodily injury” exception, he needed to tell the client that, too.

Yes, this was a very unethical lawyer.

Then there was that killing part…

* There was no reason to make the recording at all. This was a lame plot manipulation by “CSI.” Danson and his team used the biological residue on the recorder to prove that the same person who made the recording also stole the vial. But the lawyer could have just told the police about what his client admitted regarding the missing vial. No recording was necessary.

Here’s Something Else For Unemployed Law Grads To Worry About

Damocles, Attorney at Law

Damocles, Attorney at Law

A legal ethics specialist with the D.C. Bar, speaking at the Bar’s mandatory ethics course, opined that a lawyer’s student loan debt could create an irresolvable conflict of interest preventing him or her from taking on certain cases, at least while complying with the ethics rules

I never thought about that before, but horrors!…he’s right! Continue reading

The Case of the Excessively Flexible Lawyer

A Louisville lawyer named Keith Kamenish wants to defend Dion Neal, a drug dealer, against a murder-for-hire charge.  A police informant wearing a wire recorded a hit man as he said  that he was paid by Neal to kill a competitor for him. “I put 36 slugs in that nigger’s face and stood on his head,” the independent contractor boasted, according to a transcript of the conversation filed in court. “The whole head collapsed!”

Nice.

The government is trying to get Kamenish kicked off the case, and here is why: the guy whose head collapsed, LaJuante “B.B.” Jackson, was a Kamenish client at the time of his murder. Jackson was shot just four weeks after Kamenish got Jackson released on bond on a state drug charge; the lawyer’s blood- stained business card was found in Jackson’s wallet. Continue reading

Legal Ethics Train Wreck on “The Good Wife”

Oh, Alicia, Alicia...what have they done to you?

The CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” continues to show the seamy side of big firm legal practice, with heroine Alicia Florrick’s firm, Lockhart, Gardner and Bond, its adversaries, and even Good Alicia herself violating legal ethics rules with abandon, and at an accelerating rate, based on recent episodes. There is nothing wrong with this as entertainment, as long as the Rules themselves are not being misrepresented (they aren’t), the misconduct isn’t being presented as ethical (it isn’t, though it is sometimes hard to tell), and viewers don’t get the idea that this is how most law firms behave. Unfortunately, like most legal shows, “The Good Wife” fails in this important realm. I work with many large law firms, and they are all very aware on the ethical lines, bold or fuzzy, that they must not cross, and take their obligations seriously.

The most recent episode of “The Good Wife,” entitled “Getting Off” included a full-fledged ethics train wreck sparked by the firm’s habitually unethical adversary, the fecund Patti Nyholm. In the middle of representing the defendant hospital in a lawsuit brought by a Lockhart, Gardner and Bond, Nyholm is fired by her firm and removed from the case. With a twinkle in her eye, she approaches none other than the Lockhart firm to represent her in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against her former firm for discrimination and wrongful termination, on the theory that it fired her because she was pregnant. Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Ethics: Sex With Clients Edition

Diane, Diane..what were you thinking?

Last night’s episode of TV’s smartest legal drama since the 1960’s, CBS’s “The Good Wife,” dealt with the “no sex with clients” ethics rule adopted by most states (but not Washington, D.C.!) in a continuing subplot about the budding romance between firm tigress-partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski ) and ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh, played by Gary Cole. In the episode, entitled “Silver Bullet,” Lockhart decides to represent McVeigh when he is sued for millions.

That’s her first ethics mistake. Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Ethics Follies

“The Good Wife,” CBS’s legal drama starring Julianna Margulies, began as an unusually nuanced show of its type that presented intriguing ethical dilemmas without crossing into David Kelley’s over-the-top Legal Theater of the Absurd. Little by little, however, the show’s willingness to ignore core legal ethics principles is becoming more pronounced. “Boom,” which aired last week, continues a trend that is ominous, considering “The Good Wife” is still in its first season. After all, the lawyers in Kelley’s “The Practice” didn’t start finding severed heads and getting charged with murder until a couple of seasons in.

If you missed “Boom,” or if you didn’t but had misplaced your A.B.A. Model Rules of Professional Conduct, here are the legal ethics howlers committed by the “Good Wife’s” attorneys: Continue reading