ETHICS QUESTION OF THE MONTH
This content is generated by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and is for informational purposes only. Look for the reasoning behind the answers at legalethicstexas.com.
Lawyer A is an attorney in a West Texas county. He knows all the lawyers and judges in the county, including the lone district court judge, Judge B, who was a college roommate and has remained a close friend.
Lawyer A tried a case in Judge B’s court representing Client C, who was rendered paraplegic by an accident while working as a subcontractor on a construction project. Lawyer A sued the general contractor on behalf of Client C, his wife, and their three young children. The jury failed to find that the general contractor exercised or retained control over Client C, but it did find $18 million in damages.
Applying Chapter 95 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Judge B signed a take-nothing judgment in favor of the general contractor. Lawyer A filed a lengthy motion for a new trial challenging the jury’s failure to find control by the general contractor, with extensive quotations from the trial transcript.
While the motion was pending, Lawyer A and Judge B attended a birthday party for a mutual friend at his ranch. When they found themselves alone at the keg, Judge B said, “I spent the day poring over your motion for new trial. You did a solid job on that. Gave me a lot to think about. This one won’t be easy.”
Lawyer A responded, “I appreciate that. Just trying to do the best job I can do for my clients. This means everything to them.”
Judge B replied, “Of course it does, I get that. But you know I’m going to have to do what I think is right.”
Lawyer A responded, “You always do. That’s what I respect about you.” They did not speak again the rest of the evening.
With respect to the rules prohibiting ex parte conversations, which is most accurate?
Neither violated the rules, this was a harmless social conversation.
B. Both Lawyer A and Judge B violated the rules.
C. Judge B violated the rules, but Lawyer A did nothing improper.
D. Judge B did nothing wrong because he was not addressing the merits of the pending matter, but Lawyer A violated the rules by trying to influence Judge B.
The correct answer is B. For the reasoning behind the answer, go to legalethicstexas.com.TBJ
ABOUT THE CENTER
The Texas Center for Legal Ethics was created by three former chief justices of the Supreme Court of Texas to educate lawyers about ethics and professionalism. Lawyers can access the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, and a variety of other online ethics resources by computer or smart device at legalethicstexas.com.
The information contained in Ethics Question of the Month is intended to illustrate an ethics issue of general interest in the Texas legal community; it is not intended to provide ethics advice that applies regardless of particular facts. For specific legal ethics advice, readers are urged to consult the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (including the official comments) and other authorities and/or a qualified legal ethics adviser.