Legal Ethics

Does Lawyer's E-Mail Snooping Merit 2-Year Suspension?

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Corrected: At first, when attorney Michael Markins accessed his wife’s e-mail account at the law firm at which she worked, he was trying to find out whether she might be having an affair.

But then, having figured out the uncomplicated password system there, the Charleston, W.Va., lawyer admittedly began accessing other lawyers’ e-mail accounts at his wife’s firm, out of “selfish curiosity,” reports the Charleston Gazette. At the time of the electronic snooping, the firm at which Markins worked, Huddleston Bolen, was on the opposing side of mass flood litigation from the firm at which his wife was an associate, Offutt, Fisher and Nord. However, the OFN firm does not believe any confidential client information was compromised.

“On at least one occasion, an attachment from OFN’s chief accountant to the partners containing confidential financial information about the firm had been opened and reviewed,” according to a West Virginia Supreme Court brief filed by the State Bar’s Lawyer Disciplinary Board. The brief, upon which the newspaper’s account is based, says Markins accessed OFN e-mail more than 150 times between 2003 and 2006.

“Eventually, one of OFN’s lawyers began to suspect that her e-mail account had been improperly accessed,” the newspaper recounts. “The firm’s computer consultant found that an IP address belonging to the Huddleston firm had been used to read e-mail on multiple occasions.”

Both Markins and his wife lost their jobs after the intrusion was discovered, although he reportedly landed another position with John R. Fowler that paid $80,000 a year—a $2,000 pay raise over his Huddleston salary, the brief states.

The Lawyer Disciplinary Board is recommending a two-year suspension of his license. But Markins’ attorney, Mike Callaghan, says his client is contesting this “very harsh” punishment, which Callaghan describes as “excessive for the acts committed.”

Corrected at 7:15 p.m. March 4 to note that Michael Markins practices in Charleston, W.Va.


Story was corrected at 7:15 p.m. March 4 to note that Michael Markins practices in Charleston, W.V.

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