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Arizona lawyer disbarred upon consent for disparaging book about his client Jodi Arias which violated client confidentiality

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disbarment of an Arizona lawyer who represented notorious murder defendant Jodi Arias and published a book with disparaging details about the representation and revealing attorney/client confidential information without the consent of the client.  The case is In the Matter of Laurence K. Nurmi, Case No. PDJ-2016-9115.

The lawyer began representing Jodi Arias as an assistant public defender.  She was charged in the lurid and violent murder of her boyfriend in Arizona in 2008 and was found guilty of first degree murder in May 2013; however, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision on whether to sentence her to death.

Another sentencing hearing was held in the fall of 2014 and that jury voted 11-1 to sentence Arias to death.  The death penalty vote must be unanimous in Arizona and Arias was subsequently sentenced to life in prison in April 2015.  She has appealed the verdict and sentence.

Sometime in 2015, the lawyer began writing a book detailing his representation of Arias without written/oral permission or authority from Arias to publish or disseminate any information related to the representation.  According to the allegations, the book presents a negative view of Arias and the case.  The lawyer’s self-published book, Trapped with Ms. Arias: Part 1 of 3 From Getting the File to Being Ready for Trial (Volume 1), was released in 2015.

The book includes multiple confidential discussions between the lawyer, Arias, and her family. The book also provides details of the case, makes disparaging remarks, and makes several statements regarding the substance of witness interviews and inadmissible exhibits.  The lawyer also continued to disclose and explain certain facts and circumstances in the book related to his representation of Arias in promotional radio interviews.

In October 2016, the State Bar of Arizona filed a formal complaint against the lawyer for revealing attorney-client confidential information about Arias and her case in the book.  The lawyer attempted to settle the case with a 4 year suspension; however, Jodi Arias objected to that sanction.

Immediately after the announcement of the consent agreement, the Maricopa County public defender, James Haas, objected to the Arizona Bar because the agreement did not specifically order the lawyer to stop violating ethical rules with regard to the Arias case, including revealing confidential information, since the book was listed as one of 3 volumes.

The lawyer filed a request for disbarment on November 14, 2016.  The presiding disciplinary judge accepted the lawyer’s request on November 21, 2016 and issued an order making the disbarment effective the same day.

Bottom line:  This lawyer chose to write a book in a highly publicized and lurid case which disparaged his client and revealed attorney/client confidential information, including conversations with her and her family and disparaging comments.  Aria’s conviction is currently on appeal and it has been alleged that information in the book may jeopardize that appeal.

All lawyers should be aware that, unless the client provides informed consent, a lawyer is strictly prohibited from revealing attorney/client confidential information, even after the representation has been concluded.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

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    Very interesting, Joe. Wonder what would make an attorney jeopardize his license like that. Surely he realized the risk he was taking. Is it possible he felt the book took priority?

    Thanks, Cindy. I hope all is well with you. I am not sure of his motives, but maybe there was a monetary motive since he apparently had (or has) cancer.

    Have a great day.

    My guess as a lawyer and cancer survivor?

    He figured out there were more important things in life. That happens to survivors all of the time…the shifting of priorities after diagnosis and/or treatment.

    Maybe he believes now that keeping his mouth shut about his reprehensible client, especially since she is looking to get out on appeal, isn’t worth the bar card. So, to potentially damage that appeal, he opened his mouth. If he gets some cash from it, even better.

    I can’t tell you the number of attorneys…especially CD attorneys…that have given up on being lawyers because they either got screwed over by ethically challenged DAs, Judges with no sense of impartiality, or seedy clients that won’t even tell their lawyers enough information to do their jobs properly and then threaten a bar complaint post conviction.

    It’s a jungle out there, and some of us get eaten by the wild animals that lurk in the shadows.

    My initial thought was he decided he’d prefer to write Volumes 2 and 3 rather than continue practicing law. I’d doubt they can stop him from publishing additional details now that he is disbarred.

    Volumes 1-3 are the outcome of the Attorney’s engagement as a lawyer. Even after the engagement ceases, the prohibition against disclosure of confidential communication continues. I think, an injunction could be granted against volumes 2 and 3.

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