I’ve written in the past about issues associated with RPC 8.4(c) and how its potential application to any act of dishonesty on the part of a lawyer — no matter how trivial or unrelated to the practice of law it might be — makes it a problematic ethics rule. A disciplinary proceeding presently being pursued against an Illinois lawyer offers an example of a situation to which RPC 8.4(c) applies perfectly.
The Illinois lawyer has been in the news within the last few weeks for the repercussions of his harassment of a fellow Illinois lawyer. The primary focus of the media coverage has been on the creation of a fake Match.com profile for the purpose of embarrassing and disparaging a female lawyer. It was that conduct that got the lawyer — Drew Quitschau — fired from the law firm in Illinois where he had been a partner since 2012. A Law.com story dipped its toe into the waters of some of the other online misconduct involved, mentioning that he signed the other lawyer up for a membership in the Obesity Action Coalition and in Pig International.. The ABA Journal story was a bit more comprehensive in identifying the multiple membership or subscription organizations involved in Quitschau’s abuse which also included registrations/unwanted signups for Diabetic Living and Auto Trader.
But, the full picture of the extent of Quitschau’s attack occurring from June 2016 to December 2016 is best taken in through a read of the petition for discipline filed against him last month by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. There also were other acts of deception and fraudulent online activity that went beyond personal attacks into professional attacks as well.
The petition explains that Quitschau created a false negative review of the female lawyer on each of www.martindale.com and www.lawyers.com, and created a false Facebook account for the sole purpose of then using that persona to post a negative review of the female lawyer’s law firm.
Based on the timing of events, it appears to be efforts at professional harm was what Quitschau first tried against the female lawyer and only thereafter did he move on to harassment that was purely personal in nature. That conduct isn’t “worse” in any true sense of the word as the other purely personal attacks are pretty vile, but the expanded activity that focused the deception and harassment on the female lawyer’s own reputation as a lawyer certainly comes closer to being conduct that might actually also be prosecuted as violations of other ethics rules and not just RPC 8.4(c) because the female lawyer and Quitschau had been opposing counsel in seven matters during an 8-month stretch of time during his course of conduct. .
If the Illinois board could prove any connection between this conduct and Quitschau’s representation of any of those clients, then a rule like RPC 4.4(a) — which declares that “[i]n representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person” — could also come into play.
Regardless, the ability to pursue inexcusable conduct of the sort Mr. Quitschau undertook should be universally agreed to be a fitting use of RPC 8.4(c).