Matters of the heart have caused people lots of problems throughout the course of human history. Matters of the heart, when the heart is located inside the chest of a lawyer, work pretty much the same way.
Of course, sometimes stories that, on the surface, seem like matters of the heart might be more fairly characterized as being really about the inability of men to avoid controlling or toxic behavior directed toward the women in their lives (or who used to be in their lives).
This post is about a story of a Pennsylvania lawyer who is now suspended from practice over really bad judgment flowing either from a matter of the heart or from the more toxic issue of controlling behavior. I don’t know the back story or the people involved in any way so I don’t know which, but I have my suspicions. The story itself makes for an interesting post (maybe?) over and above just being an example of a lawyer behaving badly because it offers another reminder of how aspects of the ethics rules can apply to a lawyer even when they aren’t practicing law, and it taught me that I apparently do not know the full extent of what can constitute burglary.
If this blog is on your reading list, you likely already have read at least one article about this suspended lawyer (hopefully this one) — but in case you haven’t the suspension flowed from his secretly putting a GPS tracking device on the back of his ex-girlfriend’s car and hiding an audio recording gadget insider her car (under the driver’s seat to be more specific) in order to spy on her in hopes of finding out who she was now dating.
To some extent, being suspended for a year followed by four more years of probation is a secondary problem professionally for this particular lawyer because he also will be serving probation in the criminal system for five years as result of a guilty plea to two felonies: criminal trespass and to something of a violation of a criminal wiretapping statute in Pennsylvania for the same conduct.
Because of the felony convictions, it should certainly come as no surprise that the ethics violations with which he was tagged include a violation of Pennsylvania’s Rule 8.4(b) – conduct involving the commission of a crime reflecting dishonesty.
His suspension was also premised on a violation of Rule 8.4(c) which is simply the general provision prohibiting lawyers from engaging in any conduct involving dishonesty or fraud. I’ve written in the past about the problematic potential scope of Rule 8.4(c)’s prohibition for lawyers given that it is not in any way actually textually moored to representation of a client or even to conduct related to the practice of law.
This probably would not be the kind of case where a lawyer would get much traction trying to argue that applying that rule to this kind of conduct would amount to overreaching.
As promised above, the other tidbit of note – more just educational for me – is the notion that, although he didn’t plead to the charge, he was also charged with burglary under Pennsylvania law for what he did to his ex-girlfriend. That’s a new one for me given that while he may have broken into her vehicle, he didn’t actually take anything out of it but instead left something inside of it.
Turns out, under Pennsylvania law, burglary is defined to be entering any building or occupied structure with the intent to commit a crime inside. So, this must mean that for the charge against him to have been colorable, his ex-girlfriend’s car was inside a garage at the time he put the recording device inside.
So, while there are many lessons to take from the situation described above, hopefully for most of you reading this the most practical one — the one that addresses the thing you are most likely to do that would be bad — is to remember that if you do not regularly practice a particular area of law you probably don’t know as much about it as you think you do.
(Also, though I know you don’t need this reminder, once your significant other moves on, you should too. And, even if you can’t, don’t stalk them. Seriously.)