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Legal Ethics

Censure PD Who Copied Docs He Found on Machine & Was Entitled to Discover, Panel Says

Posted Nov 17, 2010 7:11 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A longtime senior lawyer in an Illinois public defender's office should be censured for photocopying documents he was entitled to discover, but had not yet received through normal channels, an ethics hearing panel has recommended.

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.

Among the mitigating factors it cited in determining not to seek Wineberg's suspension were that he was trying to represent his client zealously, not by any thought of personal gain, and that there was no harm caused to any party by his conduct.

"We also recognize that he had an honest belief that he was entitled to receive the documents in order to prepare his case and that they should have been produced to him through discovery," the opinion states. "In addition, we note that he disclosed his actions promptly in court the next day and made no attempt to lie about the matter or to conceal his behavior."

Wineberg, who worked for the PD's office from 1992 to 2009, is now in private practice.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Longtime Jackson Kelly Lawyer's License Suspended for Filing Incomplete Medical Report"

Updated on Nov. 18 to link to subsequent ABAJournal.com post.

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