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Lawyer suspended for sending threatening emails

By: Pat Murphy, BridgeTower Media Newswires//November 14, 2012//

Lawyer suspended for sending threatening emails

By: Pat Murphy, BridgeTower Media Newswires//November 14, 2012//

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A lawyer violated professional rules of conduct by sending threatening emails to several individuals after the multimillion dollar settlement of his wife’s lawsuit against her former employer, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled in imposing a 90-day suspension.

The lawyer’s wife worked as an executive for a nursing home chain. Following her termination, the wife sued her former employer for wrongful discharge. In the wife’s lawsuit, the trial court issued a protective order concerning confidential documents disclosed by the company in the course of discovery.

After the case settled for $4 million, the lawyer sent emails to several company officials, demanding that they resign in light of purported violations of federal law. The trial court in his wife’s case found the lawyer to be contempt, concluding that his emails violated the protective order because they appeared to be based on information contained in the company’s confidential documents.

A state disciplinary board concluded that the lawyer’s violation of the protective order violated the rules of professional conduct. The state supreme court agreed that the lawyer had violated professional rules requiring compliance with court orders, prohibiting communication with parties represented by counsel, prohibiting dishonest conduct and prohibiting actions prejudicial to the administration of justice.

However, rather than accepting the board’s recommendation of a public reprimand, the court concluded that the appropriate sanction was a 90-day suspension.

“[The lawyer’s] e-mails contemptuously violated a protective order by misusing confidential documents. He made an unauthorized ex parte contact with a constituent of an entity he knew was represented by counsel. … His actions that required contempt proceedings were prejudicial to the administration of justice. …

“We recognize [his] wife’s contentious lawsuit involved deeply personal issues that took a heavy psychic toll on each of them and their marriage, which ended in divorce. Yet, a lawyer in such circumstances should recognize the need to obtain and follow dispassionate, objective advice of counsel and ‘to be sensitive to circumstances which might impair his judgment,’” the court said.

Iowa Supreme Court. Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Stowers, No. 12-1025. Oct. 19, 2012.


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