An Arizona lawyer has consented to a two-month suspension from the practice of law for utilizing the chat feature of a virtual trial platform to coach his client during her cross-examination. See In the Matter of a Member of the State Bar of Arizona, Ryan Patrick Claridge, No. 2021-9088 (Ariz. Jan. 21, 2022). The lawyer admitted that his conduct violated Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct rules 3.4 (fairness to an opposing party), rule 8.4(c) (deceit), and rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
The lawyer, Ryan Claridge, represented his client, Ms. Gibbons, in a family law matter. On September 29, 2020, the court held a trial regarding Ms. Gibbons request for divorce. The judge was present in the courtroom during the trial while the lawyers and parties appeared virtually through a platform called GoToMeeting.
Mr. Claridge utilized the chat feature of GoToMeeting during the trial to communicate with his client, Ms. Gibbons. Specifically, Mr. Claridge instructed Ms. Gibbons on how to answer questions during her cross-examination. The judge was not aware that Mr. Claridge was using the chat feature to send messages to his client during her testimony. Later, the court issued a minute entry noting that the court learned of Mr. Claridge’s conduct and instructed counsel to immediate cease coaching his client during testimony. Mr. Claridge responded to the court’s admonishment by noting that “it would be the same as if I shook my head in the courtroom.” Claridge, No. 2021-9088 at 4. However, Mr. Claridge did agree to stop using the chat feature.
The Arizona Supreme Court suspended Mr. Claridge for 60 days and imposed a two-year period of probation following his reinstatement.