Prosecutors’ Letterhead: Debt Collectors’ Unethical Weapon

Prosecutors’ offices should not contract with debt collection companies to use prosecutor letterhead to create and mail collection demand letters. According to the American Bar Association’s Formal Opinion 469, prosecutors involved in this practice violate Model Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(c) and 5.5(a).

 Prosecutors violate Rule 8.4(c) by “deploying the apparent authority of a prosecutor to intimidate an individual. [The letters written on prosecutors’ letterhead] carry with them the implication that the prosecutor or associates in the prosecutor’s office have reviewed the facts and found that a crime has been committed and criminal prosecution is warranted. To create such a false impression violates Rule 8.4(c).” Additionally, prosecutors violate Rule 5.5(a) because the debt collection companies use the letterhead to send letters threatening prosecution without any review by prosecutors or staff lawyers to determine whether a crime was actually committed. Thus, the prosecutors aid and abet the unauthorized practice of law.

To avoid ethical violations, prosecutors’ offices should simply not allow others to use prosecutor letterhead.

Click here to read the ABA Journal article discussing the opinion.

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