Ethics & The Law: Question About If-Then Statement

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Below is an actual call to our hotline and answer by John Wright, member of the Ethics Committee.

QUESTION:

I am just trying to check on our duty to report. I know if a person makes a direct threat, we have a duty to disclose. However, I had someone call our office today and say, “If that doesn’t work [calling the state bar lawyer hotline], I’m going to kill her.”

We do know who the “her” would be. He hung up right after, and the statement was “if, then.”

Because it was IF, I am not sure if we have a duty to report it. Thoughts?

Thank you again for your assistance.

ANSWER:

I am not sure if the caller was a client or not. If not a client, there may be no privilege; perhaps if the caller is a witness the lawyer has interviewed, etc., there would be a duty of confidentiality. I think that duty is owed to the client, not just anyone.

If the caller is a client, I would want to talk to the client further to see how serious he/she might be. If client cools down and backs off an indirect threat, I see no need to report this unless it were to repeat itself.

If the client persists in talking like this, I would report it for what it is, an indirect but persistent threat.

TCDLA
TCDLA
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton is the former President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA), Associate Director for TCDLA, and Feature Articles Editor of the Voice, as well as serving as editor and assistant editor of Docket Call. Among his many honors, Robert was named by H Texas magazine as one of the top criminal lawyers in Harris County (2004–2010) and one of Houston’s Top Lawyers for the People in criminal law (2004–2010), and he is listed in the Martindale Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Robert has offices in Abilene and Houston.
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