Last month, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a formal complaint against a lawyer for retaliating against a client and breaking more than one of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. Margrett Skinner was retained by a client in 2009 as representation in an uncontested divorce proceeding, paying Skinner $900, including a $150 filing fee. Skinner was unresponsive to the client for six weeks, and when the client did get ahold of Skinner, the client was informed by Skinner that the paperwork had been lost and needed to be replaced. Skinner and the client eventually met again and began to draft the pleadings. “The initial drafts of the pleadings had multiple errors” but the final draft was finished by mid-November 2009. By April 2010, the divorce was finalized, but there was a disagreement about the fees and expenses to be paid to Skinner.
Skinner asked the client for an additional $185 for certain travel expenses and the filing fee…Then, on May 18, the client informed Skinner that she had hired another lawyer to complete her divorce, and she asked Skinner to deliver her file to new counsel and to refund $750. Skinner replied that she would not release the file unless she were paid. Although Skinner eventually refunded $650 to the client, Skinner never delivered the file to new counsel, contending that it only contained her “work product.” The client’s new lawyer finished the divorce within three months of being hired. Unsurprisingly, “the client posted negative reviews of Skinner” on three different consumer websites. Skinner saw these reviews and retaliated, posting “a response that contained personal and confidential information about her former client that Skinner had obtained in the course of her representation of the client.” The information posted included the client’s name, what county the divorce took place in, and the fact that the client had a new boyfriend. A grievance was filed by the client against Skinner, and Skinner said that she would remove the comment in August of 2011. However, the post was not removed until February 2012. The special master assigned to the case found that Skinner violated Rule 1.4 by not keeping her client reasonably informed between July and October of 2010 and Rule 1.6 when Skinner disclosed confidential client information in her response. The fact that Skinner had been an attorney since 1987 was an “aggravating circumstance.” But Skinner had no prior discipline and there was no “dishonest or selfish motive” for her conduct, two mitigating factors. The Court agreed with the special master on the punishment of a public reprimand, as well as the additional condition that Skinner be instructed to take advantage of the State Bar’s Law Practice Management services and recommendations with respect to internal office procedures, client files and case tracking procedures. This formal complaint is a reminder that client confidentiality is key to following the rules regarding ethics for lawyers. – See more at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160229193720/http://it-lex.org/lawyer-retaliates-client-online-comments-gets-publicly-reprimanded/#sthash.e7VV6Bbb.dpuf