Legal Ethics

Mildest sanction rejected for lawyer who disclosed client info in response to negative online review

The Georgia Supreme Court has refused to approve a reprimand for a Georgia lawyer who admitted posting personal and confidential information about a client in response to the client’s negative online reviews.

The court remanded the ethics case against lawyer Margrett Skinner because the factual record was undeveloped. “Among other things, we note that the record does not reflect the nature of the disclosures (except that they concern personal and confidential information) or the actual or potential harm to the client as a result of the disclosures,” the court said in a March 18 opinion. The ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct has a summary.

Skinner had admitted violation of a Georgia ethics rule that requires lawyers to maintain client confidences and sought a “review panel reprimand.” Because of the lack of information, the court said it was rejecting Skinner’s petition for the sanction, “the mildest form of public discipline authorized by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

The Georgia Supreme Court said it has never been faced with a case alleging violation of the rule due to Internet disclosures. But a few other states have dealt with the issue.

The Illinois Supreme Court imposed a 60-day suspension for a lawyer who disclosed confidential information about clients and made derogatory comments about judges on her blog. And in Oregon, a disciplinary board approved a 90-day suspension (PDF) for a lawyer who sent an email to a bar association workers compensation email group disclosing information about a “difficult” former client who was “attorney shopping.”

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