Legal Ethics

Law Prof Files Ethics Complaint Against Crowell Lawyers for Appalachian Inbreeding Suggestion


An assistant law professor in North Carolina has filed an ethics complaint against four Crowell & Moring lawyers who suggested that inbreeding could be responsible for Appalachian birth defects chronicled in a study of mountaintop mining.

Assistant law professor Jason Huber of the Charlotte School of Law says in the complaint (PDF) that that the online critique “contained a materially misleading statement in an attempt to solicit business from the coal mining industry.” The Am Law Daily and the Charleston Gazette blog Coal Tattoo have stories.

The law firm wrote in the online client memo, which has since been taken down, that the mining study “failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects.”

Huber writes that the Appalachian stereotype has been scientifically disproven. “Research has conclusively established that Appalachians are no more prone to inbreeding than any other population, such as white-collar professionals or for that matter, attorneys that work at Crowell & Moring,” he wrote.

Huber filed the complaint with the Office of Bar Counsel in Washington, D.C.

Crowell & Moring spokeswoman Nicole Quigley issued this statement to Coal Tattoo: “We again express our regret for any offense that might have been taken with the client alert, as it was meant only to relay a possible flaw with a scientific study. However, the complaint is without merit.”

The law firm also gave a statement to the Am Law Daily. “The complaint seeks to convert routine scientific debate into an ethical issue, and it is baseless,” the firm said.

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