Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Do Not Go Quiet Into That Good Night

Monday, the NYT carried a story with this headline Lobbyist's Firm Escapes Fallout From a Scandal. The article tells the story of how Jack Abramoff's former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, proactively dealt with the potential client thefts by Abramoff.

The firm dismissed Abramoff in February, 2004, and commenced an internal investigation. As the report states:
Greenberg Traurig rushed to distance itself from Mr. Abramoff, appease his clients and work closely with prosecutors. In the process it has earned praise for its cooperation from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, kept alive the possibility of suing Mr. Abramoff for its losses and negotiated financial settlements with most of Mr. Abramoff's victims.
However, the story also notes that "[a]fter its internal investigation, Greenberg Traurig quietly dismissed several people who had worked with Mr. Abramoff." The individuals who were dismissed were not identified, but presumably at least one or two are attorneys. This raises an interesting question.

Rule 8.3(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that:
A lawyer having knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects shall inform the appropriate professional authority.
Based on the information disclosed in the NYT story, it seems that Greenberg Traurig adequately discharged its obligations under Rule 8.3(a) as to Abramoff since it apparently cooperated fully with the prosecutor. However, it is not so clear that the firm discharged its obligations under the rule with respect to any other attorneys involved.

The rule does not limit itself to cooperation with criminal prosecutors. There is a wide range of conduct that is not necessarily criminal, but which the rule requires to be reported. That's why the rule speaks of "appropriate professional authority," since it views the primary authorities to which reporting is to be made to be those organizations charged with enforcing the ethics rules in the District of Columbia and the various states. These organizations often sanction attorneys who run afoul of the Rules of Profession Conduct even when the acts or omissions do not constitute criminal violations.

Thus, there are some additional questions with respect to Greenberg Traurig's actions:

Were any of those who were "quietly dismissed" attorneys?

Did the conduct of any attorneys appear to violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility?

Finally, did the firm inform the "appropriate professional authority" of these possible violations?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.