Trials & Litigation

Lawyers can't use someone's immigration status to intimidate them in civil cases, says ethics rule

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Mentioning an individual’s immigration status in court might not seem all that intimidating to a U.S. citizen.

But it can deter someone who is undocumented from pursuing a civil claim, or improperly influence a jury, the Washington Supreme Court says. It clarified an existing state rule of legal ethics last week, which now includes a new comment that expressly prohibits lawyers from making a reference to a person’s immigration status for the purpose of intimidating, coercing or obstructing that individual from participating in a civil matter.

The clarification is discussed in greater detail in a new comment (PDF) to Rule 4.4 of the Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct. The change will be effective September 1.

The relevant portion of the rule itself is unchanged, and reads: “In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.”

The state’s version of Rule 4.4 is based on Rule 4.4 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and its comment section.

However, the immigration status issue is not expressly discussed in the ABA version.

An information page published earlier on the Washington Courts website seeking comments about the then-proposed amendment to Rule 4.4 provides further information about the thinking behind the revision.

Hat tip: Associated Press

See also:

Associated Press (2010): “Wash. court: Illegal worker status inadmissible”

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