As I’ve blogged, in 2016, the Court adopted a comment to Rule 1.2 authorizing lawyers to advise clients on cannabis & marijuana issues that are legal under state law. If you’re a Vermont lawyer who intends to do so, make sure you know what you’re talking about.
Was That Wrong? is a semi-regular column on Ethical Grounds. The column features stories of the absurd & outrageous from the world of legal ethics and attorney discipline. My aim is to highlight misconduct that I hope you’ll instinctively avoid without needing me to convene a continuing legal education seminar that cautions you to do so.
The column is inspired by the “Red Dot” episode of Seinfeld. In the episode, George Costanza has sex in his office with a character known only as “the cleaning woman.” His boss finds out. Here’s their ensuing exchange :
(Scene) In the boss’ office.
- Boss: I’m going to get right to the point. It has come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
- George: Who said that?
- Boss: She did.
- George: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.
- Boss: You’re fired.
- George: Well you didn’t have to say it like that.
Today’s lesson comes courtesy of an order from the Florida Supreme Court disbarring a lawyer who advised clients that it was legal under state law to cultivate, possess, and use marijuana for medical purposes. It wasn’t. The Chicago Tribune and the Cannabist were among the outlets to cover the story.
Hint: it’s never a good sign when a state supreme court’s disciplinary order includes: “The most prominent features of Respondent’s misconduct are incompetence and extremely serious harm to clients.” Opinion, p. 5.
Someday I hope to launch a YouTube channel tied to this blog. When I do, I’ll adapt Was That Wrong entries to the screen. Here’s how I envision scripting today’s:
- Court: We will get right to the point. It has come to our attention that you;
- advised clients that it was legal to grow, possess, and use marijuana for medical purposes;
- referred these clients to doctors who weren’t licensed to practice medicine in Florida and who provided your clients with meaningless “legal certifications” and “grow cards;”
- told clients “not to worry” when they called to tell you that the police had stopped by to instruct them to dismantle grow operations; and,
- did not refund fees to clients who, having relied upon your advice, were arrested, charged, convicted, fined, and lost almost everything including, in at least one case, a professional license; and,
- continued to insist that your advice was correct even as your clients were prosecuted criminally.
- Lawyer: Who said that?
- Court: Your clients did.
- Lawyer: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, cause I’d only been admitted for 3 months when I started doing that.
- Court: Disbarred.
- Lawyer: Well you didn’t have to say it like that.
Again, Comment 14 to Rule 1.2(d) of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct authorizes lawyers to provide clients with advice on cannabis & marijuana issues that are legal under state law. Nothing in the rules, however, relieves lawyers from doing so in a competent manner.