Internet Law

Suit claims lawyer rerouted former partner's emails to himself, violating electronic privacy law

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A Pennsylvania lawyer is accused of violating federal and state law by rerouting a former partner’s emails to himself.

The suit, filed in New Jersey federal court, claims lawyer Robert A. Mitchell of Doylestown violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and wiretap laws in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The laws authorize civil suits by those whose electronic communications are intercepted and sets damages at $100 per day for each violation or $10,000, whichever is greater, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs are the Philadelphia Gun Club, its current president and two former presidents. They claim damages should be used to offset legal bills owed to Mitchell for his former firm’s handling of gun club litigation. They say Mitchell had diverted the emails to himself from February 2015 through June of 2015.

According to the suit, the former partner, Sean Corr, took the gun club’s case with him, as per the club’s instructions, when he left Corr Mitchell in November 2014 to start a solo practice.

Corr set up a new email account and instructed the New Jersey-based technology consultant for the disbanding Corr Mitchell firm to forward his emails to the new account. Mitchell, however, “used his position as the managing member” of the law firm to countermand Corr’s instructions, telling the technology consultants to entirely shut down Corr’s old account, the suit alleges.

At the same time, the suit says, Mitchell maintained a second email account that used Corr’s old email address. The email sent to that account was then routed to a personal server Mitchell had with GoDaddy. Mitchell never forwarded the emails to Corr, and didn’t tell him about the arrangement, according to the suit.

Because Mitchell had set up a different account using the old address, email users never received a bounce back message when they mistakenly sent messages to the old address, according to the suit. It wasn’t until June 2015 that Corr suspected something was amiss and contacted Mitchell, whose response “began the process of revealing” the chain of events, the suit says.

Mitchell told the ABA Journal he hadn’t been served with the complaint but he was “very surprised by the filing.” Asked whether he had rerouted the emails, Mitchell replied that “the facts were misrepresented” in the suit.

Mitchell said the case arises out of the dissolution of a law firm that is pending before a state court in Pennsylvania, where a judge had found that Mitchell never read the emails and there was no breach of ethics as a result of what had transpired.

During a December 2015 hearing before Judge James McMaster of Bucks County, Mitchell testified that he didn’t know when he canceled the account that Corr was forwarding emails to himself. Mitchell said he didn’t realize that the effect of the cancellation was to default to earlier email accounts that had been dormant.

Mitchell testified that he didn’t even know the dormant account existed, and never viewed the emails addressed to Corr.

Hat tip to Law360.

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