NCAA Sports Probe Triggers Ethics Complaint

The NCAA has established strict rules to regulate the activities of student-athlete representatives, aka “boosters.”  If a booster violates collegiate rules, the NCAA can take action to hold an athlete ineligible from competition or impose other sanctions upon the school.  In a recent unexpected development, the NCAA was put on the defensive when its investigation of the University of Miami football program revealed that one of its own attorneys may have violated Florida’s ethics rules.

This story begins with a former Miami booster who was serving a 20-year prison sentence for running an illegal Ponzi scheme. The booster contacted the NCAA to report that he had improperly given money and other benefits to student athletes and coaches in violation of the NCAA rules.  At the time the booster contacted the NCAA, he retained an attorney with ties to the NCAA to represent him in his criminal defense.  During the attorney’s representation of the booster, the attorney subpoenaed witnesses who were affiliated with the University of Miami and represented to them that the depositions would only pertain to the financial matters of her booster client.  In truth, according to the ethic’s complaint, the attorney had been working with the NCAA and forwarded it documents obtained during the deposition.

The Florida Bar eventually learned of the attorney’s dual connection to the booster on the one hand and NCAA on the other and filed ethics charges alleging 15 violations of state bar rules, including misstating the objectives and scope of her representation in violation of Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.2, revealing confidential information in violation of Rule 4-1.6, and making false statements to third persons in violation of Rule 4-4.1.   The attorney now faces possible sanctions, which could lead to suspension or disbarment. 

Many professional communities are small and there is room for relationships to overlap. Here, the attorney allegedly failed to disclose her dual-role, and perhaps misrepresented her motives. Other situations aren’t so clear and therefore consistent and open communication is a must. Failure to adhere to ethical standards can expose the client to harm and can lead to professional liability.

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