Is it Unethical to Call Another Lawyer Unethical?

bomb-threatThis Iowa State Bar Association addressed this question in a recent ethics opinion. See Iowa Ethics Op. 14-02 (Oct. 24, 2014).1 The committee noted that making unfounded allegations of misconduct is tantamount to conduct involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Furthermore, it observed that lawyers alternatively “employ a tactic of ‘warning’ opposing counsel of the ‘potential’ for ethical conduct” in order to both avoid a to report it and to “influence or coerce opposing counsel” with an “ulterior motive.” The Iowa opinion found both tactics unprofessional:

Wrongfully accusing a fellow lawyer of unethical conduct, fraud, dishonesty or deceit to gain advantage is the antithesis of professionalism.

The answer to the question is significantly more straightforward in Louisiana. Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g) expressly addresses the issue and provides that a lawyer may not “[t]hreaten to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.” See also In re Ruffin, 54 So. 3d 645, 648 (La. 2011). In addition to being professional misconduct, such threats may constitute extortion under the Louisiana Criminal Code depending, of course, on the context. See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:66(2) (stating that a “threat to accuse” a person “of any crime” can be “sufficient to constitute extortion”).

  1. For an ABA opinion addressing the propriety of threatening to file a disciplinary complaint against another lawyer in order to gain an advantage in a civil matter, see ABA Comm. on Ethics and Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 94-383 (1994).
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