Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will update my 9/9/13 blog and will discuss the January 15, 2014 Joint Stipulation between an Illinois lawyer and the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission wherein the lawyer admitted to, inter alia, violating a client’s confidences when she posted a response to a client’s allegedly false AVVO post which went beyond what was necessary to defend herself. The case is In the Matter of Betty Tsamis,Commission No. 2013PR00095 (1/15/14). The Joint Stipulation is at https://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=11221.
The Joint Stipulation states that the following facts would be established regarding the allegations that the lawyer revealed client confidences in responding to the AVVO post:
“On September 6, 2012, Respondent agreed to represent Richard Rinehart (“Rinehart”) in matters related to Rinehart’s securing unemployment benefits from his former employer, American Airlines. American Airlines had terminated Rinehart’s employment as a flight attendant because Rinehart allegedly assaulted a fellow flight attendant during a flight. Rinehart paid Respondent $1,500 towards her fee.
Between September 6, 2012 and January 16, 2013, Respondent met with Rinehart on at least two occasions and obtained information from Rinehart concerning both his employment history at American Airlines and the alleged incident involving the other flight attendant. Respondent also reviewed Rinehart’s personnel file, which she had obtained from American Airlines.
On January 16, 2013, Respondent represented Rinehart at a telephonic hearing before the Illinois Department of Employment Security (“IDES”), at the conclusion of which the IDES determined to deny Rinehart unemployment benefits. Shortly thereafter, Rinehart terminated Respondent’s representation of him. On or about February 5, 2013, Rinehart posted a client review of Respondent’s services on the legal referral website AVVO, in which he discussed his dissatisfaction with Respondent’s services.
On February 7, 2013 and February 8, 2013, Respondent contacted Rinehart by email and requested that Rinehart remove the February 5, 2013 posting about her from the AVVO website. Rinehart responded that he refused to remove the posting unless he received a copy of his files and a full refund of the $1,500 he had paid Respondent as fees. Sometime between February 5, 2013 and April 10, 2013, AVVO removed Rinehart’s posting from its online client reviews of Respondent.
On April 10, 2013, Rinehart posted a second negative client review of Respondent on AVVO. Respondent replied to his post and revealed confidential information about his case. Respondent’s reply to Rinehart’s second posting contained information relating to her representation of Rinehart and exceeded what was necessary to respond to Rinehart’s accusations. (bold added).
Factors in mitigation. Respondent was admitted to practice law in Illinois on May 4, 2006 and practices in Chicago where she concentrates her practice in the area of employment and civil rights law. Respondent has no prior disciplinary history. Respondent understands the seriousness of her misconduct and has expressed remorse for it. She has taken steps to more carefully manage her recordkeeping in order to minimize the likelihood of future errors involving her client fund account, so that future overdrafts do not occur. Those steps include reviewing client ledgers and settlement statements with greater detail before issuing checks, and ensuring that she deposits money into the client trust account to account for credit card fees. If this matter proceeded to a hearing, several lawyers and clients would have testified to Respondent’s excellent reputation for truth and veracity. The Administrator and Respondent agree and jointly recommend that a reprimand be administered by the Hearing Board pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770(h) and Commission.”
Bottom line: As I previously stated, all communication via digital media is a potential minefield, which this case clearly illustrates. Although lawyers are generally permitted to reveal confidences to defend allegations by clients against them and it appears that the lawyer was justified in her frustration with the (former) client, she agreed in the stipulation that she went too far by revealing confidential information that went beyond the information necessary to defend herself against the allegedly false statements made by the client in the AVVO post and she agreed to a public reprimand.
Let’s be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this blog is not an advertisement and 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