A Colorado attorney was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months on several grounds, including answering to clients’ criticism on line, disclosing confidential information.
By way of background: a couple retained lawyer to provide his services in a post-marital issue. Although clients signed a fee agreement, they were not fully explained the terms of payment. They paid an additional $200 for a “filing fee” when no action for that fee was taken. In addition, the attorney failed to adequately communicate with the clients, threatened to withdraw on short notice and declined to refund the “filing fee.”
After representation was terminated, the couple posted complaints about the attorney on two websites. He responded by publicly shaming the couple and disclosing highly confidential information.
The attorney then sued the couple for defamation. Although he knew that the couple had retained counsel, the lawyer communicated with them directly on several occasions.When the lawsuit was dismissed, the attorney brought a second defamation action in a different court, falsely alleging that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings.
For all of these reasons, the attorney received 18 months suspension from practice starting October 1, 2015.
Relevant Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct:
1.4(a) (a lawyer shall reasonably communicate with the client);
1.4(b) (a lawyer shall explain a matter so as to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation);
1.5(a) (a lawyer shall not charge an unreasonable fee);
1.5(b) (a lawyer shall communicate, in writing, the rate or basis of the fee and expenses within a reasonable time after commencing representation);
1.16(d) (a lawyer shall protect a client’s interests upon termination of the representation, including by refunding unearned fees);
1.6(a) (a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client); 1.9(c)(2) (a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a former client);
4.2 (a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by counsel in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the opposing counsel);
3.1 (a lawyer shall not bring a proceeding unless there is a basis in fact for doing so that is not frivolous);
8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that prejudices the administration of justice).
On the topic, see Nathan M.Crystal, Defending Against Internet Criticism: “Silence is Golden”, South Carolina Lawyer 12 (January 2015)
For more information, Francesca Giannoni-Crystal