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High court privately reprimands attorney

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The Indiana Supreme Court has privately reprimanded an attorney for improperly revealing information about a former client when socializing with friends.

The justices released the per curiam opinion Friday, In the Matter of: Anonymous, No. 18S00-0902-DI-73, in which they found the anonymous attorney violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.9(c)(2). The attorney represented an organization that employed “AB,” which is how the attorney became acquainted with her. AB and her husband were involved in an altercation, police were called, and her husband claimed AB threatened to harm him. A month later AB called the attorney, told her about the allegation, and that she had separated from her husband. In a second phone call later that month, AB asked the attorney for a referral to a family law attorney, which included the name of an attorney in the respondent’s firm.

AB retained that attorney and filed a divorce petition; the couple later reconciled and AB requested the petition be dismissed, which ended the firm’s representation of her.

When socializing with friends after this, one of which was also a friend of AB, the respondent told them about AB’s filing for divorce and her husband’s accusation. The respondent didn’t know AB had reconciled with her husband. The attorney also encouraged AB’s friend to contact AB because she was concerned. When AB learned what the attorney had said, she filed a grievance.

The attorney has no disciplinary history and was cooperative with the Disciplinary Commission.

The respondent argued to the hearing officer that AB initially gave her the information at issue to seek personal rather than professional advice, so the information wasn’t confidential and her later relationship with the firm didn’t change its nature. But the information was disclosed not long before the second phone call in which AB wanted an attorney referral, and she became at prospective client under Rule 1.18, which required confidentiality.

It also doesn’t matter that AB told this same information to some of her co-workers or that the information at issue could be discovered by searching various public records and the Internet.

“True, the filing of a divorce petition is a matter of public record, but Respondent revealed highly sensitive details of accusations AB's husband made against her to the police. There is no evidence that this information was contained in any public record,” the justices wrote. “An attorney has a duty to prospective, current, and former clients to scrupulously avoid revelation of such information, even if, as may have been the case here, the attorney is motivated by personal concern for the client.”
 

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