By Michael Robinson, Sr.
As state legislatures all over our nation convene for their 2013 sessions, and at a time when state attorneys general are being accused of misconduct, it’s time to pass an Attorney Ethics Law. Though others can be charged with criminal perjury and contempt for lying to a judge, attorneys in most states — not “sworn in” in court hearings — can lie with impunity, because there are simply no laws to enforce their honesty.
Attorneys take an oath when admitted to their state bar associations that they will discharge their “…duties with honesty, fidelity, professionalism, and civility…” That should equate to being “sworn in,” but the state bars are peer organization and very much like a referee having his own team on the playing field. Attorneys look out for other attorneys. Only a miniscule percentage of bar complaints result in strong disciplinary measures, and judges may choose to ignore an attorney’s alleged lies despite the state Judicial Conduct Codes, which mandate that they take action. The judicial conduct codes don’t quibble about semantics, but typically state, “If a normal person would be offended by such disregard of the law and such an abandonment of responsibility, the Judicial Commission can and has a responsibility to act on this information.” Nevertheless the Judicial Conduct Commissions don’t enforce their Codes, and staff members admit that the commissions have little disciplinary power.
Twelve states have passed laws making attorney deceit and collusion a criminal act. It should be. The resulting misdemeanor convictions are legal basis for civil suits with mandatory treble damages. But most states have been inept or incompetent in demanding accountability of their“officers of the court.” The self-policing system simply doesn’t work. An impartial and equitable court system depends on attorney honesty. Without that, the Constitutional rights of every American are at risk. We have a right to expect that court decisions are not based on an attorney’s lies, and that judges will take appropriate action in enforcement of the rules.
It is time for Americans to tell their legislators they demand
accountability in the legal profession and the court system. I urge you contact your Senators and Representatives and insist on a law for your State that creates criminal consequences for dishonest officers of the court.
Here’s are some of the basic rules the Lawyer Integrity Bill of 2013 should include
1) A lawyer shall not make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.
2) A lawyer shall not fail to disclose a material fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client.
3) A lawyer shall not offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.
4) If a lawyer has offered material evidence and comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures.
5) When evidence that a lawyer knows to be false is provided by a person who is not the client, the lawyer must refuse to offer it regardless of the client’s wishes.
6) An advocate must disclose the existence of the client’s deception to the court or to the other party.
7) An advocate must disclose the existence of perjury with respect to a material fact, even that of a client.
9) A lawyer has authority to refuse to offer testimony or other proof that the lawyer believes is untrustworthy.
10) A lawyer has a special obligation to protect a tribunal against criminal or fraudulent conduct.
Any officer of the court, including all private or government attorneys and judges who have taken the Attorney Oath shall be bound by law to the commitments thereby sworn. Any such officer of the court found guilty of such dishonesty shall be in violation of the aforementioned rules, shall be deemed in violation of the laws of the State of Utah and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by fine, jail time, or both, and such a conviction shall be basis for a civil suit with mandatory treble damages.
Michael Robinson, Sr. did both undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Utah School of Journalism, was a columnist for the Daily Utah Chronicle, served as a newscaster at KUER-FM, and was an assistant Army Public Information Officer during the Viet Nam era. He resides in Riverton, Utah.