Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent opinion of the Georgia Supreme Court rejecting an agreement between a lawyer and the Georgia Bar for a reprimand as a sanction for the lawyer’s “inappropriate threatening language, intimidation and personal attacks directed to opposing counsel” during his divorce case. The case is In the Matter of John Michael Spain, No. S17Y0010 (February 27, 2017) and the Court’s opinion is here: https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/s17y0010.pdf
The lawyer, who was admitted in Georgia in 1999, sent the e-mails over a period of two days while he was representing himself in his divorce matter. He pled no contest to misdemeanor charges of stalking and harassing communications related to the e-mails and was sentenced to one year of probation on each count to be served consecutively.
In the agreement with the Georgia Bar, the lawyer admitted that the e-mails included “inappropriate threatening language, intimidation and personal attacks directed to opposing counsel, including inappropriate remarks about counsel and members of her family, and ad hominem statements about his wife.”
The lawyer cited as mitigating factors that he had no prior discipline and that he was suffering from his personal and emotional problems related to the marriage and stated that he has received professional help for his problems and he has retained a lawyer to represent him in the divorce. He also stated that acted in good faith to rectify the consequences of his conduct by entering the pleas, that he has cooperated fully with the Bar, that his misconduct did not involve his practice or his clients, that he was deeply remorseful and recognized that his conduct was contrary to his professional obligations and longstanding personal values, and that he wished that he could reverse his actions.
The Georgia Bar agreed to the reprimand under the “unique set of circumstances’; however, after reviewing the record and relevant cases, and analyzing the facts, the opinion rejected the petition for voluntary discipline for a reprimand.
Bottom line: This case involves some allegedly egregious conduct by a lawyer who was representing himself in his own divorce proceeding. A lawyer is responsible for his or her actions, even if the conduct occurs outside of the representation of a client if they result in violations of the Bar Rules. This also appears to clearly demonstrate the application of the old proverb, commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln (although likely much older), that: “A man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client”.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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