Legal Ethics

Lawyer censured for texting nonpaying client 'have fun in prison'

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A New Jersey lawyer has been censured for telling a nonpaying client he wouldn’t prepare for his impending trial if he didn’t pay his legal bills and he should “have fun in prison.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court censured lawyer Logan Terry in a Nov. 1 order, the Legal Profession Blog reports. The court accepted the recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, which described the case in a June 8 decision.

Terry had twice asked a judge to allow him to withdraw from the representation and was turned down both times.

Terry’s client was accused of sexual assaults on four minors under age 13. He faced a potential sentence of more than 200 years in prison. Just days before the scheduled trial date in June 2016, Terry told the client that he couldn’t prepare an adequate defense unless his legal fees were paid.

In a text, Terry told the client he wouldn’t prepare in the weekend before the trial without getting paid first. Then he wrote, in all capital letters: “HAVE FUN IN PRISON.”

The client told the judge about the communications. The judge granted the defendant’s request for new counsel and rescheduled the trial.

The client had not cooperated in preparing a defense during a 14-month representation and had refused a plea offer he considered to be favorable, Terry told the Office of Attorney Ethics.

Terry said he had unsuccessfully sought to be relieved of the representation because of the client’s noncooperation and failure to pay legal fees.

Terry was accused of violating ethics rules barring conflicts of interest and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. He had no previous record of discipline.

The review board said Terry’s conduct constituted a conflict of interest because he “placed his own personal interest in receiving a legal fee above his client’s interest in receiving the best possible defense to the charges against him.”

The board also said Terry’s text disrupted the judicial process because the judge was forced to release the jury and reschedule the trial. The board noted as an aggravating factor that the trial had been previously rescheduled because Terry had failed to pay the annual fee to the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.

“To be sure,” the review board said, Terry “was in a difficult position, having been required to continue representing an uncooperative, nonpaying client in a criminal matter. Nevertheless, [Terry’s] reaction to that predicament was one of defiance—to subvert the court’s directive by ‘poisoning’ the representation on the eve of trial.”

The ABA Journal was unable to leave a message for Terry at the number listed in attorney records because the voicemail box was full.

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