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Legal Ethics

Nebraska Lawyer Suspended for ‘Joke’ Letter to Prosecutor

Posted Aug 5, 2009 1:08 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawyer Lyle Koenig says his letter threatening to reveal a prosecutor’s alleged car registration violation was intended as a joke, but Gage County Attorney Randy Ritnour didn’t take it that way.

Neither did the Supreme Court of Nebraska. The court suspended Koenig for 120 days for writing a letter offering to drop the registration matter if Ritnour responded in kind by dismissing a case against an associate in Koenig’s office, the National Law Journal reports. The associate had been charged with driving without proper registration or proof of insurance.

Koenig’s letter included a photo of the license plate on Ritnour’s car and said, "Our lips, of course, are forever sealed if [the associate’s] case gets dismissed." Koenig told the National Law Journal that the comment wasn’t serious. "I meant that in a way the phrase is always used—as a joke."

Ritnour told the NLJ he was obligated under ethics rules to reveal Koenig’s unusual letter, and said Koenig’s allegation that he violated the registration law was wrong.

The state supreme court found the letter violated an ethics rule prohibiting lawyers from prejudicing the administration of justice or implying an ability to influence government officials, the story says.

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