Hello welcome to this Leap Day edition of the JACPA Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the Illinois assistant public defender who was charged with revealing identities and confidences of criminal defendant clients in her blog, disparaging judges, and failing to advise the court of a client’s false statements with regard to the use of drugs.
A disciplinary complaint was filed by the Illinois disciplinary commission. On May 18, 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court suspended the lawyer’s license to practice law in Illinois for 60 days, effective June 8, 2010. Since the lawyer was also admitted in Wisconsin, a reciprocal discipline case was opened in that state and the lawyer agreed to a suspension to practice law in Wisconsin for 60 days, effective July 25, 2011. The Wisconsin Supreme Court case is In re: Disciplinary Proceedings against Kristine Peshek, Case No. No. 2011AP909–D. The Wisconsin disciplinary opinion is attached.
According to the Wisconsin disciplinary opinion (and the Illinois disciplinary complaint), the lawyer’s public blog contained confidential information about her clients and derogatory comments about judges and had information sufficient to identify those clients and judges using public sources. She also said that a judge was “a total a—hole” (using the actual term) and called another “Judge Clueless”. Finally, she also failed to inform the judge of her client’s false statements with regard to the use of methadone and in one of her blogs about that incident; the lawyer described her conversation with the client as follows:
“Huh? You want to go back and tell the judge that you lied to him, you lied to the pre-sentence investigator, you lied to me? And you expect what to happen if you do this? I’ll tell you what would happen; the sentence just pronounced would be immediately vacated and you’d go to prison, that’s what would happen.”
The Wisconsin opinion found, in mitigation, that the lawyer “worked tirelessly as a public defender for her entire career…and asked the panel to consider the traumatic event” wherein she was punched by a client in court. The lawyer also realized the risk of revealing client confidences and “regretted her mistake.” Further, “(a)t no time did (the lawyer) discern any risk of disclosing client confidences, because she believed she adequately concealed her clients’ identities to avoid inappropriate disclosure and (a)fter the issue was brought to her attention, she removed all entries related to client matters. As far as her client’s misinforming the court, counsel advised that (the lawyer) misunderstood her ethical obligations at that point and had no intention of assisting her client in a fraud on the court.”
Bottom line: This is an update on a case that I have discussed many times at my seminar and webinar presentations regarding technology and preserving lawyer/client confidentiality. This lawyer appears to have been venting about her stressful job and paid the price for that venting with a suspension of her license to practice law for 60 days in 2 states.
Be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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