What sort of ethical violations can cause an attorney to face professional sanctions?
Probably less than you think.
What other professions might regard as boorish or even mildly questionable behavior is regarded as a serious abuse of power or ethical breach among attorneys. That’s in recognition of the fact that attorneys generally wield an enormous amount of power to disrupt lives and potentially thwart justice.
Consider the following examples of actions that can easily lead to professional sanctions by the Bar:
1. Making disingenuous arguments in court.
Trying to plead a case without any real basis for the claims made inside it will quickly earn you the court’s ire and, very probably, a formal sanction. One attorney tried to argue that the court had already declared that an alleged incident of sexual harassment was undisputed knowing that the court had made that statement solely for the purposes of a motion that was in front of it at the time. That’s essentially hoping that the court will overlook the actual facts or merits of a motion and make a mistake.
2. Failing to preserve evidence.
Spoliation does sometimes happen by mistake, but attorneys are expected to take measures to prevent their clients from purposefully destroying evidence — even if it might hurt their case.
When litigation starts, that’s a cue to halt data and document purges of all kinds until further notice. If your client tells the court that he or she was never told to keep something that could have importance to the case, your client’s case may suffer — and so could your professional reputation.
3. Playing games with the other side.
There’s a good reason Perry Mason moments only happen in fiction. Real attorneys know that discovery is supposed to be an above-board process. While that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to make the opposing side’s job easy, it does mean you don’t want to suddenly produce new evidence at the last moment or back out of your agreements in the discovery process without good reason. Either could cause you a great deal of grief.
Sanctions aren’t just a black mark of professional misconduct on your record — they’re also costly. You can lose your case, suffer fines and even be ordered to pay the opposing side’s costs.
Source: FindLaw, “California Code, Code of Civil Procedure – CCP § 2023.030,” accessed March 14, 2018