When the Ethical Firewall is Breached

Thanks for the email wondering why my posts have been sparse recently. There’s nothing major wrong, just a particular busy time professionally and personally. Great for discussion over a beer, but nothing pertinent for discussion here. (Other than the distinct possibility that I will be going to South Africa to consult on setting up a paralegal program at a major university there, which I will discuss here later.)

For now, I’ve barely been able to keep up with reading other people’s blogs, much less writing for my own. Today I’m going to cover myself a bit by relying on a post in the ABAJournal.com blog. Most paralegals are aware of the ethical wall that must be built between themselves and a new firm when a case being handled by the new firm creates a conflict for the paralegal because of their work for a previous firm. Unfortunately, sometimes those walls are accidently breached. A professional paralegal must be mindful of their professional ethical obligations when such a breach occurs. The following post relates to an attorney, but provides an appropriate warning to paralegals as well:

Because lawyers in the Lake County public defender’s office often handled both sides of guardian ad litem matters, representing children thought to be in need of protection and indigent parents, the office was set up in a manner intended to keep information confidential from attorneys not entitled to see it, explains an opinion yesterday by a hearing board panel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. And there was a policy that lawyers there weren’t supposed to look into each other’s files, it notes.

However, when Scott Andrew Wineberg fortuitously found on the office copy machine one day medical record information that he had been seeking to discover through normal channels, he admittedly copied it for his own case, in which a hearing was planned the next day. Then, even after he was called to account both in his own office and before the ARDC hearing board for doing so, he contended he had done nothing wrong.

Wineberg disclosed to the judge in the case at issue that he had the three pages of medical record information and it was eventually produced to him in discovery, too, the opinion recounts.

However, calling his conduct in taking the three pages for use in his own case “dishonest,” the panel recommended that he be censured for doing so.

The rest of the post is available here.

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