Category Archives: Ethics

Clients Rights and Responsibilities in Rhode Island – English and Spanish

New Rhode Island Bar Association president Mike McElroy recently sent out a note with a link to the Bar’s Notification to Clients of their Rights & Responsibilities statement in both English and Spanish to ensure proper communication between attorneys and clients.

  • Click here to see the new Spanish version of Clients Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Click here to see the English version of Clients Rights and Responsibilities.

Former Republican State Representative Steven J. Coaty Public Censured by Supreme Court

This week, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in the case of  In the Matter of Steven J. Coaty, publicly censured former Republican State Representative and lawyer Steven J. Coaty for committing a host of ethical violations while representing four clients who filed disciplinary complaints against him. The Court ordered attorney Turner Scott to to monitor Coaty’s practice of law.

Here is the relevant portion of the Court’s order:

The respondent has committed a host of violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct in his representation of these four clients. He has exhibited a disturbing pattern of neglecting matters entrusted to his care, failing to maintain adequate communication with his clients, and failing to properly respond to disciplinary complaints. While the board did not find any intentional misappropriation of client funds, respondent’s billing practices and handling of client funds can, at best, be described charitably as sloppy and well below the standard of care expected of a fiduciary.

Accordingly, we enter the following order. The respondent, Steven J. Coaty is hereby publicly censured. Turner Scott, Esquire, a member of the bar of this state is hereby appointed to monitor the respondent’s practice of law. The respondent shall fully cooperate with Attorney Scott, and shall meet with him and review his cases at least once per month. The purpose of this monitoring is to ensure the following: (a) That the respondent shall properly adhere to all deadlines; (b) that the respondent shall provide diligent representation to his clients; (c) that the respondent shall maintain adequate communication with his clients; (d) that the respondent shall provide timely and accurate billings to his clients; and, (e) that the respondent’s use of his clients’ account conforms with the mandates of Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorney Scott shall submit monthly reports to disciplinary counsel regarding the results of his monitoring of the respondent’s practice. The respondent is ordered to participate in the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Fee Arbitration Program, provided that Bini, Towle, and Addison also agree to participate to resolve the issue of excessive fees. We direct disciplinary counsel to report to us about the respondent’s cooperation with and participation in the fee arbitration program.

Coaty was the toast of the RI Republican community when he upset Democratic candidate Bud Cicilline in the Newport special election in House District 75 to replace the late Rep. Paul Crowley.  Less than 12 months later, Coaty fell to Democratic newcomer Peter Martin by a final tally of 55% to 45%.

The Providence Journal also reported this story here.

First Circuit Upholds $101 Million Verdict in Wrongful Convinction Case

A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion written by Judge Bruce Selya, upheld a lower court landmark verdict of $101.7 million for four men framed by the FBI in a gangland slaying.

The judges said that the 2007 damage judgment to the families of Peter J. Limone, Joseph Salvati, Louis Greco, and Henry Tameleo, believed to be the largest of its kind nationally, was considerably higher than any of the three appellate judges would have ordered and was “at the outer edge of the universe of permissible awards.’’

Yet, the court stated: “But when we take into account the severe emotional trauma inflicted upon the scapegoats we cannot say with any firm conviction that those awards are grossly disproportionate to the injuries sustained.’’

Limone, now 75, of Medford, spent more than 33 years in prison as a result of his wrongful conviction in the 1965 murder. Salvati, now 76, of the North End, was in prison for more than 29 years. The other two men, Greco and Tameleo, died in prison after decades of imprisonment.

Writing for the court, Judge Selya wrote that the FBI “stooped too low’’ to try to stamp out organized crime and that “the large damage awards mark the last word of a sad chapter in the annals of federal law enforcement.’’

Ethics, Law and Facebook

More fascinating news from the world of social networking and the credibility of witnesses.  From the ABA Journal:

A lawyer who wants to see what a potential witness says to personal contacts on his or her Facebook or MySpace page has one good option, a recent ethics opinion suggests: Ask for access.

Alternative approaches, such as secretly sending a third party to “friend” a Facebook user, are unethical because they are deceptive, says the Philadelphia Bar Association in a March advisory opinion.

Not telling the potential witness of the third party’s affiliation with the lawyer “omits a highly material fact, namely, that the third party who asks to be allowed access to the witness’s pages is doing so only because he or she is intent on obtaining information and sharing it with a lawyer for use in a lawsuit to impeach the testimony of the witness,” the opinion explains.

“The omission would purposefully conceal that fact from the witness for the purpose of inducing the witness to allow access, when she [might] not do so if she knew the third person was associated with the inquirer and the true purpose of the access was to obtain information for the purpose of impeaching her testimony.”

Facebook and MySpace profiles are different from public spaces where one can freely film and record others, the opinion says, because an invitation is required to access them, notes a Social Media Today post on the opinion.

Plaintiff’s attorneys should be careful to review their client’s social networking information as early as they can.

Lawyer turned Escort ‘outed’ by Providence Journal

In a bizarre story co-mingling media and legal ethics, the Providence Journal publicly ‘outed’ a Massachusetts attorney living in Rhode Island who was the victim of an alleged robbery while working as an escort.  The ABA Journal and NBC 10 also reported on the story and included the attorney’s name.  However, the attorney made every effort to keep her name out of the media.

Assistant Attorney General Stacey Pires Veroni contacted The Journal on Friday and said that Baccala wanted to recant her allegation because of “press involvement” and urged the newspaper not to identify Baccala as the victim. “I’m going to have difficulty with my case, or no case at all,” Veroni said.

In an interview with The Journal, Baccala vehemently objected to having her name published and said that to avoid publicity she was going to tell the police she made up the attack. The publicity “will ruin my entire life,” she said.

The Journal story does not include their rationale for publishing the attorney’s name.