Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent opinion of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission Hearing Board reprimanding a lawyer for e-file confidentiality breach and failing to supervise his non-lawyer staff. The opinion is In the Matter of: John A. Goudge, No. 1024426, Commission No. 2012PR00085. The opinion is at: https://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=10819.
According to the opinion, the lawyer was an associate at a law firm in Chicago, Illinois and was responsible for all cases arising from a contract the law firm had with the United States Department of Justice to represent the federal government in debt collection cases involving student loans.
In July and August 2011, one the lawyer’s several non-lawyer assistants prepared complaints and corresponding exhibits alleging that defendants were indebted to the United States for failure to pay student loans pursuant to the lawyer’s instructions and direction. At the lawyer’s direction and on his instructions, several of his non-lawyer assistants logged on to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’ Case Management/Electronic Case File (CM/ECF) system to file the complaints and exhibits.
The non-lawyer assistant was required to check a box in the CM/ECF system which stated that the filings were in compliance with Rule 5.2(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that personal identifying information be redacted from all filings. The box was checked; however, the exhibits included loan documents that had personal identifying information, such as social security number, date of birth, and account numbers. In numerous complaints and exhibits, defendants’ personal identifying information was not redacted; therefore, the confidential information became available to the public and viewable on the court’s website.
The lawyer stipulated that he failed to make reasonable efforts to supervise the non-lawyer and the process of redacting the confidential information. The Board found in mitigation that the lawyer had been licensed to practice law in Illinois since October 29, 1977, had no prior discipline, cooperated during the investigation and disciplinary proceedings, and expressed remorse for his conduct and reprimanded the lawyer.
Bottom line: Electronic filing of court documents is here and every lawyer must take steps to insure that confidential information is not included with court pleadings and documents, whether in state of federal court.
Be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670