Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Email Errors: One Attorney in Trouble, the Other Embarrassed

The Indiana Discipline Commission has recommended that a lawyer who privately criticized a judge should be suspended from practice for a year.  The lawyer sent an email to another lawyer involved in an estate case and stated, among other things, that the judge “should be turned in to the disciplinary commission for how he handled th[e] case.”  What’s not clear, however, is how the judge received a copy of the email. 

The commission recommended the suspension based on its conclusions that the attorney believes he is above the courts and the law and that his criticism of the judge was “filled with inaccurate claims and slanderous innuendo.”  The lawyer has responded that his speech was private and protected by the First Amendment.  In an interesting twist, the commission apparently would have dropped the matter had the attorney apologized to the judge, but the attorney refused to do so.

The Indiana Supreme Court’s disciplinary decision will be forthcoming.  An article about the case can be found here.

In another case, a Nebraska lawyer accidentally copied a Nebraska Supreme Court justice on an email about a case that had just been heard by that court.  The lawyer (who was not involved in the case) sent the email to two attorneys involved in the case to congratulate them on their oral arguments in the case and the way they “dealt with some ill-conceived and uninformed questions.”  Unfortunately for the lawyer, he accidentally copied twenty-four other people on the email, including the chief justice.

The email came to light after the justice filed a disclosure to let the parties know about the email and to assure them that it would not impact his ruling, though he did give them the option to seek to recuse him if they felt it necessary. 

Unlike the Indiana lawyer, however, the Nebraska lawyer promptly apologized and indicated he intended no disrespect.  The Lincoln Journal Star article is here.     

Attorneys walk a fine line with email communications.  Email is a great, quick way to communicate, but it has risks (e.g. copying unintended recipients).  Always double check the recipient list and think twice before making disparaging comments.  For other email tips, see my earlier post about email etiquette.

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