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Ethics Opinions Every South Carolina Attorney Should Know: Part XI, Misusing Influence

The powers that lawyers have are substantial.  We can use our training to influence policy in all three branches of government.  We can use our training to help individuals and companies smooth their interactions with government.  We are appointed to boards at much greater rates than non-lawyers, and can use that position to influence the direction of government agencies, charities, non-profits, and corporations.

Our status as lawyers give us connections that the general public does not have.  The temptation is to use that power and those connections for our own immediate advantage or for the advantage of our friends and family.  Some attorneys, when being pulled over as part of a traffic stop, immediately let the officer know they are a lawyer: the reason they do this is their belief that their status as attorneys will cause the police officer to treat them deferentially.

In In the Matter of William F. “Troup” Partridge, 374 S.C. 179, 648 S.E.2d 590 (2007) an attorney was suspended from the practice of law for one year for trying to help a family friend fix a ticket, and engaging in a cover up when the Office of Disciplinary Counsel began investigating.  Part of disciplinary issue was that the attorney used his status as an Assistant Attorney General and former law clerk of a Circuit Court Judge to fix the ticket.  He went to that Circuit Court judge to get an Order and Rule to Show Cause issued against a local magistrate judge in an attempt to force (intimidate?) that magistrate judge into fixing the friend’s ticket.  He allegedly implied to the local sheriff that service of this Rule to Show Cause was being requested by the Attorney General’s office.  Someone used his facsimile lines from the Attorney General’s office to issue this paperwork, possibly in an attempt to make it look like the Attorney General’s office was behind the attempt to “correct the ticket.”  Information on this facsimile regarding the identity and phone number of who sent this facsimile was obliterated by “white out.”

While this behavior violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct, for the purpose of this blog, the violations from his misuse of these connections were Rule 1.11(d) (lawyer who serves as public employee shall not violate Rule 1.7, RPC) and Rule 3.5(a) (lawyer shall not seek to influence a judge by means prohibited by law).

The lesson of Partridge: when dealing with the court, don’t use your connections or position to gain advantage for yourself, your family, or your friends.

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