Legal Ethics

Lawyer Suspended for E-Mail Snooping

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A West Virginia lawyer has been suspended for two years for accessing the e-mail of his wife and eight other lawyers at least 150 times over a two-year period.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals imposed the sanction against Charleston lawyer Michael Markins in an opinion issued Friday, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

At first Markins accessed his wife’s e-mail account at the law firm at which she worked as an associate in an attempt to learn whether she might be having an affair, noted in an earlier post. After he figured out the firm’s uncomplicated e-mail password system, “his curiosity got the better of him” and he accessed the e-mail accounts of eight other lawyers at his wife’s firm on almost a daily basis, the opinion says.

At the time, Markins worked at Huddleston Bolen and his wife worked at Offutt, Fisher and Nord. Both lost their jobs.

Markins accessed personal information and viewed confidential financial information intended to be read exclusively by Offutt Fisher’s partners. He didn’t stop until he learned the firm’s computer experts were on the verge of discovering that he was behind the unauthorized e-mail intrusions.

Huddleston represented co-defendants in a large mass tort case, and one of them had a claim for indemnity against an Offutt Fisher client. However, there is no evidence that information concerning the case had been compromised, according to the opinion.

Nor is there any evidence that Markins misused the information he accessed, the opinion says. Still, the court said it needed to impose an effective sanction as a deterrent to other lawyers and to reassure the public.

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