Admonition No. 15-23: Massachusetts Attorney Violates Ethical Rules in Representing Adverse Clients

The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) has issued public admonition against an attorney for failing to obtain a former client’s consent before representing a new client in a substantially related matter adverse to the former client.  In Admonition No. 15-23, the attorney had been employed by the law firm for eight years.  During this period, the firm represented the former client’s spouse, seeking modification of a divorce based on allegations of child abuse.  The attorney did not directly represent the spouse, but was consulted on a financial issue in the case.

 

The attorney left to start his own firm, and several years later, was retained by the former husband to defend new allegations of sex abuse a civil matter filed by his ex-wife. The attorney advised him of his firm’s prior representation of the ex-wife, but forgot that he had been personally consulted on the case, and also failed to obtain the ex-wife’s consent to represent her ex-husband.

 

The ex-wife informed the attorney of the conflict of interest and requested that he withdraw as counsel, but the attorney refused.  Counsel for the ex-wife then filed a Motion to Disqualify, which the Court granted.

Subsequently, the Board of Bar Overseers commenced disciplinary proceedings against the attorney.  The Board issued a formal admonition, after finding that the attorney had violated Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.9, by representing a client in a matter adverse to a former client when the two matters were substantially related, without obtaining the informed consent of the former client. His refusal to withdraw also constituted a violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. Rule 1.16(a)(1).