Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire? Attorney’s Voluntary Discipline Petition Denied Based Due to Inapplicability of Cited Legal Ethics Rule

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected an immigration attorney’s voluntary discipline petition because the attorney misapplied the ethics rules. The attorney self reported an ethics violation that consisted of signing a client’s name and filing his asylum application without explaining the application to the client in the client’s native language. The application requires an attested signature by the client in the presence of the lawyer. The client, a non-English speaking Guatamalan boy, was detained in Texas and subject to removal proceedings. His mother retained the attorney and subsequently completed and filed the asylum application on the boy’s behalf. Ultimately, another attorney represented the client who obtained asylum relief.

Nonetheless, attorney filed a petition for voluntary discipline thereby self-reporting a violation of Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(d), which prohibits counseling or assisting a client in criminal or fraudulent conduct. Moreover, he requested the court impose a “review panel reprimand,” Georgia’s lowest public disciplinary action.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected his petition finding that his actions were without consultation of his client and therefore he could not have “assisted” his the client in fraudulent conduct. “Instead . . .[attorney] engaged in criminal or fraudulent behavior on behalf of his client without ever discussing the matter with his client.” Although the attorney’s petition was dismissed the court noted in a footnote that the attorney’s conduct appears to support violations of Rules 1.2(a) and 8.4(a)(4), which require lawyers to consult with clients regarding the scope of the representation, and refrain from conduct involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” respectively.

It is unclear whether any further action will initiated by the Georgia State Bar or the attorney—Bottom line: Before you contemplate a “confession,” ensure that you understand the nature of your “crime.” To read the entire opinion, click here.

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