California Family Law Attorney

THURMAN'S INSIDER'S ETHICS TIPS:

Duty of Divorce and Family Law Attorneys to Behave Honestly

Cal. Rules of Prof. Conduct, Rule 5-200 is a good State Bar section to cite to the family court when opposing counsel's behavior becomes so subjectively personalized that it needs to be pointed out to in order to reign them in, possibly as support for a request for Family Code section 271 sanctions.

Two dark practices that divorce attorneys employ are those covered by the subsection (B) duty not to trick the judge or make false statements concerning any fact or the law, and by subsection (E) which admonishes family law practitioners not to behave like a witness unless they are a witness.

The first scenario commonly takes place when an attorney knowingly misrepresents the evidence or provides the judge with self-servingly incomplete statements of the law or bogus arguments. The second occurs when a lawyer is effectively "vouching" for his or her client as though the lawyer was present and had witnessed the events or transactions being described or have become the client themselves. While marital dissolutions and custody disputes are intensely personal for the party litigants themselves, the emotional nature of family law work can infect all the players and participants. Lawyers can become enmeshed in their client's stories and agendas, which causes them to lose their objectivity. Some will stoop to, or find themselves unconsciously, losing sight of their ethical boundaries.

This is unfortunate for all concerned, and while some people may like to see their emotional stories mirrored back to them by their legal representative, it does clients a huge disservice. As a result of their years of witnessing and experiencing the same patterns, pitfalls and cul de sacs in case after case, family lawyers are uniquely positioned to be able to guide clients through the family law process constructively. It is more than a shame when attorneys don't help relieve their client's crisis and instead ramp it up. Attorneys who violate Rule 5-200 have lost sight of their true roles in society.


CALIFORNIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT RULE 5-200 - TRIAL CONDUCT

In presenting a matter to a tribunal, a member:
(A) Shall employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to the member such means only as are consistent with truth;
(B) Shall not seek to mislead the judge, judicial officer, or jury by an artifice or false statement of fact or law;
(C) Shall not intentionally misquote to a tribunal the language of a book, statute, or decision;
(D) Shall not, knowing its invalidity, cite as authority a decision that has been overruled or a statute that has been repealed or declared unconstitutional; and
(E) Shall not assert personal knowledge of the facts at issue, except when testifying as a witness.