From “The Ethics Incompleteness Theorem” and “The Ends Justify The Means” Files, The Pautler Case: My Favorite Legal Ethics Dilemma Ever!

"Irena's Vow" Pictured L to R: Maja Wampuszyc, Tracee Chimo, Tovah Feldshuh (kneeling), Gene Silvers

The Sundance Channel was doing a “Law and Order” marathon this week, and I happened to see an episode from 2002 that I had missed. It was based on the Pautler case in Colorado from the same year.

In “DR 1-102,”  Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm) deals with a hostage crisis in which a man suspected of bludgeoning two women to death claims he will release his captive, held at knifepoint (above), if he can consult with an attorney. Southerlyn volunteers to enter the scene, and obtains both the hostage’s release and the killer’s  surrender, but only by deceiving him into believing that she is his lawyer, and not a prosecutor working for the police and the State. Although Southerlyn is hailed as a hero, the bar seeks to disbar her, charging her with violating Disciplinary Rule 1-102 (now New York RPC 8.4 d., which prohibits lawyers from lying.  .

Actually, Serena did a lot more than that, as did her model, Mark Pautler, the Jefferson County (Colorado) assistant D.A. whose real life conduct created a legal ethics dilemma that is debated to this day.

On June 8th, 1998, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pautler  arrived at a gruesome crime scene where three women lay not just murdered, but chopped in the skull.  All had died from hit in the head with a wood splitting maul. The killer was William Neal, who had apparently abducted the three murder victims, one at a time, and killed them over a three-day period. Now, police said, he was at another locale, having released three hostages he had held in terror for about 30 hours. Neal left in the apartment a tape recording that detailed all of his crimes, including a fourth murder and rape at gun point.

Neal contacted police at the apartment using his cell phone and personally described his crimes in a three-and-a-half hour conversation. The officer speaking with Neal took notes of the conversation and occasionally passed messages to Pautler and other officers at the scene. A skilled negotiator, she urged the maniac to surrender peacefully. Efforts to ascertain the location of Neal’s cell phone were unsuccessful, and it was feared that if Neal did not surrender, others would die.

Neal made it clear he would not surrender without legal representation. The police did not trust the public defenders office to handle the situation, fearing that a defense counsel’s advice might lead Neal not to place himself in police custody. Pautler also believed that a public defender would advise Neal not to talk with law enforcement. Neal was savvy enough, he felt, that a police officer could not effectively pretend to be his lawyer, so Pautler agreed to impersonate a defense attorney over the phone He told Neal that his name was was “Mark Palmer.”

Though in the ensuing phone conversation Pautler tried to avoid giving direct legal advice, it was clear that Neal believed “Mark Palmer” worked for the public defender’s office and represented him. And the deception worked: Neal eventually surrendered without further incident.

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Bar had problems with Pautler’s conduct. He was charged with violating two ethics rules, the equivalent of the one used in the “Law and Order” episode and also Colorado Rule 4.3, which requires a lawyer to inform an unrepresented party so it is clear that he isn’t representing him, and to give no legal advice other than to get an attorney. They could easily have charged him with violating others. like Rule 1.3, requiring diligent representation (Call me a stickler, but trying to trick your client into surrendering to police isn’t what the rule has in mind), Rule 1.4, which requires a lawyer to keep a client informed (“Oh: I’m really a prosecutor!“), Rule 1.6, Confidentiality (Pautler shared what Neal told him with police; a lawyer can’t do that! ) Rule 1.7, Conflicts of Interest (Ya think?) and Rule 4.1, which prohibits lawyers making false statements of fact, like “I’m here to help you.” Continue reading

Here’s A First: Kansas Suspends A Lawyer For Facebook Bullying

It's unethical for a lawyer to play a sad violin over Facebook??? Why yes, it is!

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.

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Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Legal Profession Blog