Category Archives: Law: Ethics

Can Lawyers Hire Folks to Pose As Law Students to Get Links to the Firm’s Web Site?

Here’s a real-life event that might make a good short-answer problem for a Professional Responsibility final exam.

Today I received an email purporting to be from a law student. The sender’s email address was [common-first-name]@edu-student-mail.org. The subject line was “Suggestion for your page [URL]” with the URL being a fairly obscure page from an Internet law seminar I gave in 1998.

Here’s the text:

Hi!

I came across your site today while doing some research on intellectual property for one of my law classes. You provide some really great resources, but on your page http://www.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/sem98/sem11.htm I tried to click on your link to http://www.eff.org/pub/Intellectual_property and it doesn’t seem to be working. I also found this page in my research which could provide similar information if you wanted to check it out 🙂 [here followed a URL to a site advertising personal injury lawyers that I’ve cut out to avoid rewarding this behavior].

Best,

[First-Name Last-Name]

I responded with an email asking what law school she attended. Haven’t gotten an answer.

Suppose, just hypothetically (we have no reason to believe this at present), that the name is a fake and this was in fact an advertising message for the California PI firm sponsoring the website in the message.

Is this (hypothetical) duplicity banned by the California legal ethics code? I’m not a member of the California Bar, so I don’t know the answer to this one. A cursory glance at Rule 1-400. Advertising and Solicitation. makes me wonder if there isn’t maybe a gap in the rules.

The California ethics rules prohibit making false statements to potential clients, actual clients, opposing parties, and the courts. They also prohibit false statements to third parties about cases in which the lawyer is involved. But there doesn’t seem to be anything about hiring an agent to make a false statement to a third party (me) designed to get (let us hypothesize) accurate publicity for the lawyer, that is a link to the firm’s site.

The rules do say, among other things, that

A communication [defined as: “any message or offer made by or on behalf of a member concerning the availability for professional employment of a member or a law firm directed to any former, present, or prospective client”] or a solicitation [“any communication: (1) Concerning the availability for professional employment of a member or a law firm in which a significant motive is pecuniary gain;”] (as defined herein) shall not:

(1) Contain any untrue statement; or

(2) Contain any matter, or present or arrange any matter in a manner or format which is false, deceptive, or which tends to confuse, deceive, or mislead the public

It doesn’t seem to me that, true or false, the email I quoted above qualifies as either a “communication” or a “solicitation” under these rules. So I have to think it is not covered.

But shouldn’t sleazy lying marketing designed to promote a website be as unethical as a lie to a potential client or lies on that website?

Maybe the person who sent that email was real. But even if she is, the gap in the rules this email made me think about may be real too.

(I’d welcome enlightenment from anyone more familiar with the California rules.)

[Original draft 2/2/10.  In preparation for my blog redesign, I’ve been going through draft blog posts that somehow never made it to publication. This is one of them.]

12/12/2010: Never did get an answer to my email.

Posted in Law: Ethics, Zombie Posts | Leave a comment

Ben Kuehne Vindicated!

Here's something to be grateful for: Feds drop money-laundering case against Miami lawyer Ben Kuehne.

Justice was done too slowly here. But at least it was done.

Posted in Law: Ethics | 2 Comments

Goverment to Only Do Business With Honest Contractors — Military-Industrial Complex Faces Doom

HuffPo(*) has the scoop, Whoops: Anti-ACORN Bill Ropes In Defense Contractors, Others Charged With Fraud:

The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.

Here's the Project of Government Oversight (POGO) federal contractor misconduct database. And POGO has more; meanwhile Rep. Grayson is asking for people to crowdsource his list of companies caught by the rule. According to Huffpo,

Grayson then intends to file that list in the legislative history that goes along with the bill so that judges can reference it when determining whether a company should be denied federal funds.

All this because naming ACORN in the legislation creates a risk that the statute might be a bill of attainder.

This is an amazingly brilliant if impractical idea given the level of corruption in military and doubtless civilian procurement (sort of super-debarment for those versed in procurement law), but we all know it will never survive the legislative sausage factory.

(*)-Employs family member.

Posted in Law: Ethics | 4 Comments

Practice Tip: Tell Your Clients “Don’t Text to the Witness”

We've all heard about the jurors who go home at night and Google the witnesses or the lawyers — and I'm sure the cases we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg.

But the feisty South Florida Lawyers Blog has got a story that tops any of that: a party text messaging with a witness during a break in that witness's testimony.

Instant mistrial when discovered. (Note: the lawyers were at a sidebar with the judge when it happened, so they're not to blame for this one.)

Posted in Law: Ethics | 1 Comment

Local Blogger Wins Case

Congratulations to David O. Marcus for this big win : Pain doctor trial: judge orders government to pay most of M.D.'s legal bills.

Calling the actions of prosecutors “profoundly disturbing,” a federal judge in Miami has ordered the U.S. government to pay sanctions topping $600,000 in the case of a South Florida physician charged with illegally prescribing painkillers.

U.S. District Judge Alan Gold is forcing the government to pay Dr. Ali Shaygan more than half the costs he incurred to defend himself at trial as punishment for secretly recording his defense team.

In a harshly-worded 50-page order, Gold said the “win-at-any-cost behavior” of federal prosecutors Sean Cronin and Andrea Hoffman raised “troubling issues about the integrity of those who wield enormous power over the people they prosecute.”

Kidding aside (I couldn't resist the headline, sorry David), this is a major verdict and an important victory, especially as it comes on the heels of the Stevens case. Two cases isn't a huge sample, but it at least raises the possibility that under the prior administration the Justice Department may have developed problems that go beyond partisanship and involve losing sight of their mission to do justice rather than win at all costs.

Posted in Law: Ethics | 2 Comments

People Unclear on the Concept

Scott Horton, Why Two Bush Appointees Are Refusing to Leave, describes the incredible story of U.S. Attorneys Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh and Alice Martin of Birmingham — both highly partisan and dubiously ethical — who although they serve at the pleasure of the President refuse to hew to custom by tendering resignations, and either think they can bluff Team Obama into not firing them or see some partisan value in being fired rather than going quietly.

It had better not work. There is a place for holdover US Attorneys — when they're really good and genuinely non-partisan. Patrick Fitzgerald, for example. But ladies, you're no Patrick Fitzgerald.

Posted in Law: Ethics, Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Leave a comment

Spitzer Does the Right Thing

YouTube – Eliot Spitzer Resignation

Now, how about family values Senator Vitter – when is he going to resign?

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