Legal Ethics

'Think of my name and squeal': Lawyer admonished for angry email exchange referencing 'Deliverance'

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Updated and corrected: An Arizona lawyer has been admonished after a fee dispute escalated into an email feud that included a reference to the movie Deliverance.

The presiding disciplinary judge of the Arizona Supreme Court admonished lawyer Dennis Wilenchik in a Feb. 2 amended decision (PDF) that accepted discipline by consent. The agreement requires a one-year probation period, during which Wilenchik must continue with anger management treatment. The Legal Profession Blog notes the ruling and links to the decision.

The complainant in the ethics case owned a medical marijuana consulting business, according to the agreement for discipline. He saw Wilenchik for an initial consultation in February 2014, and an associate began work on his case. But the complainant never came into the lawyer’s office a week and a half later, when he was supposed to bring in his signed fee agreement.

The law firm billed the complainant more than $1,100 for the initial consultation and follow-up conferences, emails and phone calls. The complainant didn’t pay.

An exchange of emails followed that became “increasing insulting and off-color,” the decision says. Here are excerpts cited in the agreement for discipline:

Wilenchik: “Apparently you must think I work for free—I don’t any more than you do …

Complainant: “Really! Yes you should have a signed fee agreement before you charge someone! … So get off your high horse and stop putting people down before u have all the facts. Very unprofessional on your part.”

Wilenchik: “Unprofessional on my part? You are a real piece of work—glad you are so rich that you have to stiff people. Be real proud.”

Complainant: “I told Jerry that I would take care of you. Now u can f— off!”

Wilenchik: “F— you, you cheap asshole—wouldn’t want your damn money anyway but you never had any intent to pay it anyway and you know it—wd much prefer to sue you for it. And don’t write me again—the next time I see or talk to you will be in court you loser.”

Complainant: “Bring it bitch!”

Wilenchik: “OK drug dealer—I look forward to the many nights and mornings when you think of my name and squeal—you mean nothing to me. Check out the movie Deliverance.”

Wilenchik conceded violation of a Supreme Court rule barring lawyers from engaging in unprofessional conduct, according to the Legal Profession Blog.

Wilenchik tells the ABA Journal in an email he decided it wasn’t worth the effort to contest the sanction.

“This was a private, not public admonition and not published,” Wilenchik wrote. “It was not worth the effort to contest it as I believe I should not have reacted in kind or taken the bait of a client who obviously was trying to avoid payment to us and who had asked us to do work immediately, did not return our fee agreement as promised, and refused to pay us and who had provoked the incident by not only cursing … with the f word first at me when we asked for payment, but who told me to ‘bring it on bitch’ and I reacted in kind.

“It was late on a Friday evening and I did not believe it was possible to be ‘offensive’ to this person who … bragged how he was going to make 70 million dollars in the medical weed business etc., but couldn’t pay a bill a little over 1000 dollars because he never returned the fee [agreement] before we stopped work. He never responded to the bar on anything or the disciplinary judge when asked, but despite all this and the fact that the statute on what is unprofessional conduct could easily be challenged as unconstitutionally vague and questionable for use of language in private emails, particularly in a non court situation, and in direct response to use of such language by another, I decided it was best for me to not engage in such conduct again, even if provoked, as there was no point to it for me to do so, so I decided it was best to privately consent to the admonition and to move on to more productive matters.”

Wilenchik asked his lawyer to respond when asked to provide confirmation that the matter was a private, as opposed to public, admonishment.

Senior Arizona bar counsel David Sandweiss tells the ABA Journal that an admonishment with probation is considered public discipline, but it is not published in the state bar’s Arizona Attorney magazine. More serious disciplinary sanctions–including reprimands, suspensions and disbarments–are listed in the magazine, which publishes 11 times a year; however, the admonishment is listed on the state bar website where it will remain for five years, Sandweiss said.

Update: The complainant signed a declaration in August stating that he was never offended by Wilenchik’s emails and he thought the Deliverance reference was humorous. “These emails were harmless banter which I instigated and therefore it is impossible for me to have been offended,” the complainant wrote. Nor did he construe the Deliverance email to show a real intent to harm him, the complainant said.

Wilenchik’s lawyer, Mark Goldman, says the declaration constitutes newly discovered evidence and he is seeking to set aside the admonishment. For more information, see this story.

Subsequent coverage: “Lawyer admonished for email exchange with ‘Deliverance’ taunt seeks to set aside the judgment”

This post has been corrected to fix a link and correct the spelling of Wilenchik’s name. It was later updated to include additional details and comments. It was updated on Sept. 1, 2015, to report that Goldman’s lawyer is seeking to set aside the judgment due to a declaration signed by the complainant.

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