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