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.