One of the foundations of the attorney-client relationship is confidentiality. Apart from limited exceptions, attorneys are generally precluded from disclosing a client’s confidential information to a third-party and must act at all times in the client’s best interest. It is well established that failure to do so may constitute an ethical violation and perhaps professional misconduct. A recent $40 million lawsuit claims that an attorney’s breach of his client’s confidences led to the client’s murder. Uh oh.
A wrongful death suit filed last week by the family of a murder victim claims that the attorney for the deceased is liable for the death. According to reports, Isaiah Callaway and Tavon Davis were both charged for their roles in a complex mail fraud scheme. Davis, who was allegedly the mastermind of the scheme, retained Callaway and others to steal checks and money orders from drop-boxes and deposit the funds into fraudulent accounts. Both defendants were represented by the same Maryland attorney. According to the suit, Davis conspired to kill Callaway when he learned from their mutual attorney that Callaway was speaking to authorities. According to the civil complaint, the attorney indicated to Davis that Callaway was cooperating with authorities and that authorities were putting enormous pressure on him to talk. Allegedly, Davis plotted to kill Callaway believing that his former cohort was providing the prosecutor with damning evidence. Davis pled guilty to federal murder conspiracy charges in connection with Callaway’s April 2011 shooting death.
For its part, the prosecutor’s office issued the following statement: “When we follow the rules and disclose to private lawyers that someone may be cooperating with law enforcement, we rely on them as officers of the court to keep the information from getting into the wrong hands.”
According to the civil suit, Callaway’s death was the direct result of his attorney’s negligent disclosure of sensitive information.
The suit against the attorney is an extreme example of the repercussions of disclosing any information regarding a client. Inappropriate disclosure to a third-party or conduct that may be considered adverse to the client may lead to ethical violations and possibly worse.