Ethics & The Law: Zoom: The Walking Ethical Violation

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Within 30 minutes of counsel’s calling into the TCDLA’s Ethics Hotline, counsel’s problems were solved.

DILEMMA:  Lawyer L represents incarcerated and indicted client C. Mr. C. is adamant that lawyer L immediately gift all discovery already received from the DA under Article 39.14, C.C.P., to Mr. C’s brother-in-law, Mr. B, who is a licensed private investigator in Texas.

Who will be killed, kidnapped or threatened as a result of that “required” release of discovery information?

Should an attorney always follow the dictates of his/her client, even if the client is right or wrong? 

ANSWER:  No!

Does Article 39.14, C.C.P., authorize counsel to so release all to Mr. B, who was not appointed or hired as an investigator for Mr. C? 

ANSWER:  No. See Article 39.14.

Do the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct authorize counsel to disclose confidential communication and unprivileged information upon Mr. C’s request? 

ANSWER:  Yes. See Rule 105(c) and (d).

How can lawyer L “avoid or get around” the disclosure prohibition in Article 39.14, C.C.P.?

ANSWERS

  1. Only with a “sealed” judicial order authorizing such redacted or unredacted disclosure to Mr. B. 
  2. Without a court order, lawyer L can hire Mr. B as lawyer L’s second investigator in this case and disclose all. Lawyer L should be sure that he can trust Mr. B. 

How many clients can you trust not to get you involved in client’s past, present or future criminal conduct?

How many investigators have you dealt with that you can trust to do it right and keep you out of ethical and professional misconduct due to the actions and omissions of that very investigator whom you hired on a case?

When it comes to prosecutors and judges, how many can you trust to always do the right thing?

When  it  comes to hiring an investigator or working with an appointed investigator, 

who can you trust to always do the right thing so you will not get indicted, convicted or disbarred for that investigator’s conduct on your and Mr. C’s behalf?

Lawyer L may be held liable under tort or criminal law, if Mr. B alone or in conspiracy with Mr. C threatens, kidnaps or kills any State witness, whose name, address or phone number is disclosed in the Article 39.14 discovery.

Common sense dictates what a knowledgeable ethical lawyer should do in this scenario. What would you do?

Joseph A. Connors III

COVID-19 has changed the whole world, not just our part. 

We hear lawyers everyday complain that there is no business, no money to pay rent or mortgage.

The government has established several loan programs at low interest rates since lawyers are making no money. Some of this money has to be paid back. There is no free ride.

Many communities are making deals to conduct trials in coliseums. The powers-that-be insist it will happen. But many older lawyers are advised by doctors to stay away, that this killing pandemic is no joke.

To ethically do your job, warn clients about making phone calls, speaking to anyone, and writing any letter that may contain any information the prosecutor, judge or jury can use against the client. Get  your client to sign an acknowledgment that you have so advised her/him of this problem.

In the opinions of many trusted experienced lawyers, many calls on Zoom are unethical because other people can immediately hear or later listen to the client’s confidential communications with counsel. Knowingly allowing any third party to listen to or later review attorney-client communications waives the confidentiality of that information and the privilege created by the the attorney-client relationship. 

In almost all scenarios, Texas Rule of Disciplinary Conduct 1.05 prohibits counsel from waiving that privilege without her/his client’s informed prior consent. 

Law enforcement make arrests and accused citizens are quickly released since jails are full.

In Harris County, accused citizens appear before a magistrate who reviews the case and sets a bond. Then accused citizens have to appear in court for bond conditions. Contrary to settled law and without presentation of any “change of circumstances” evidence, many presiding judges continue to revoke bonds set by magistrates. 

After great discussions with several excellent lawyers, like Brent Mayr who is on our Ethics Committee, it became necessary to file a judicial complaint. No one took that obligation lightly;  but it was absolutely necessary that it be done.                                                                              

Zoom is a walking ethical violation: i.e. A jailed client is on Zoom and a guard is standing so close and can hear all dialogue between lawyer and client. That is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yes, COVID-19 has changed our lives, but how many federal and state constitutional rights must be lost?  It is the job of each of us to preserve those constitutions one client in Texas at a time.

We recommend you object every time you are put in any such a situation. Make the judge’s record reflect that the law considers the attorney-client privilege to be sacred but it is being violated and abused each time something like this happens and you are being forced to commit an ethical violation every time this happens on the judge’s Zoom hearing; so i object to the court’s procedural manner of conducting this judicial hearing that is systemically depriving this defendant of each of his/her following rights guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions, namely:  First Amendment freedom of speech about confidential matters with counsel; Fourteenth Amendment due process of law; Fifth Amendment right to confidential communication with counsel during custodial interrogation by police, prosecutor and/or court; and Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.

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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