Some of the Attorney Disciplinary rules are spectacularly and conveniently vague. Two of the best of these are DR 1-102 (a) (5) and (7) [22 NYCRR 1200.3(a)(5), (7)] which provide:
(a) A lawyer or law firm shall not:
(5) Engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;
(7) Engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.
A case from the Fourth Department on June 8th should provide a warning for any lawyer who has a website, especially bloggers who cover legal news. Hey, like this one! The case was Matter of Moran, 2007 NY Slip Op 05093. The facts are a little vague from the Court’s decision, but apparently the attorney at issue had posted on his website information about a confidential investigation being conducted by the Grievance Committee into alleged misconduct by a rival personal injury firm, and he included a link to a newspaper article concerning that investigation. The Fourth Department found that by doing so, the attorney engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice and that adversely reflected on his fitness as a lawyer, in violation of DR 1-102 (a) (5) and (7). The Court simply stated that the attorney should have known that the Grievance Committee investigation was confidential.
There were other violations of the Disciplinary Rules involved in the case which ultimately led the Court to impose the sanction of suspension. But finding that posting a link to a news article, which already disclosed the investigation, is prejudicial to the administration of justice? How so? Did the posting of the link somehow hinder the Grievance Committee investigation? I can’t see how. Posting the link adversely reflected on the lawyer’s fitness? Again, how so? I don’t get it. The whole notion that investigations before the Grievance Committee are confidential is problematic in many ways. And to find that the mere repetition of an investigation’s existence constitutes a violation of the above rules is in my opinion an overly broad reading.