I think your best bet is to file a complaint with the local bar association.
In my state, it is a violation of the professional rules of conduct for a lawyer to "shame" a client into paying their bill.
This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to you. This general information is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney in your jurisdiction. The attorney client relationship is not established by this post.
First, it is not libel if the attorney's comments are true. Second, I find it hard to believe that in an attorney responding to someone else's question, that attorney would mention you by name, instead of just describing the circumstances. Yes, attorneys do get upset because most attorneys are the last to get paid. If you don't pay your doctor, dentist, therapist, etc., they refuse to see you anymore. They expect every dime. Unfortunately, the general public believes that attorneys are rich, which is untrue, and don't struggle to pay their bills just like everyone else. I have no idea what you are referring to as extortion. I handled economic crimes for 7 years as a prosecutor and have rarely seen an extortion case. That is normally handled criminally by the DA>
As I have said, libel (written) and slander (verbal) are only such if the attorney is intentionally lying. If they are telling the truth or asserting that they are telling the truth, that is an absolute defense. If you did not pay that attorney and are discharging that attorney's fees in bankruptcy, you have to discharge all attorney's fees in bankruptcy and the attorney is just providing the new attorney with the professional benefit of advising the new attorney that they are likely to be included in the bankruptcy as well.
From your post, it appears apparent that your attorney is upset that you did not pay her or him, which is definitely understandable. We don't do this profession for fun. We do it to make a living. What did your bankruptcy attorney say? Attorneys are entitled to pursue the debts that are owed to them. They are not a debt collector and the Federal Debt Collection Enforcement Act does not apply to them.
Has the attorney sued you? How have you suffered financially as a result of her or his conduct? Exactly what "confidential information" or "privileged information" is she or he leaking? You have to show actual economic damages to pursue a libel/defamation/slander case. I do not hear of you mentioning any economic damages. The attorney does not sound as if she or he has interfered with your bankruptcy by calling the trustee. It does not appear that she or he has interfered with your bankruptcy attorney and your relationship because your bankruptcy attorney is still representing you. So, from your post, I am at a loss as to what economic hardship or damages you have suffered. It is also unclear as to what "big lies" the attorney has posted about you. If to her or him they appear to be factual or indeed are factual, then they are a statement of opinion, which is protected by the First Amendment.
You are already filing for bankruptcy and presumably discharging the attorney's fees in bankruptcy. Now, you want to go after the attorney as well. I would simply leave it alone and move on with your life. The bankruptcy alone has impacted her or him. However, you are free to report your concerns to the Attorney Regulation division of the Supreme Court if you want. However, they are going to have plenty of questions for you as well, like why did you continue with that attorney if you knew that you were in poor financial straights and were not open and honest with her or him. How can you now afford a bankruptcy attorney if you could not afford your former lawyer? How were the emails harassing? Simply asking you to pay in the emails is not harassing? Threatening to beat you up or have someone beat you up is harassing?
You should sit down with your bankruptcy attorney and discuss the pros and cons of this before you do anything. However, make sure that you disclose everything to that attorney. Because, if you file a bogus and frivolous lawsuit against an attorney, expect the attorney to file a lawsuit against you and ask for their attorney fees and costs, which are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
The information provided in this answer does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not considered to be legal advice. Mr. Leroi answers questions on Avvo because he strongly believes in public service from his years as a judge, magistrate, and prosecutor. If you need to ask any follow up questions because my answer did not fully address your question, feel free to call Chris or post an additional question. Thank you.
Mr. Leroi provided an excellent answer. Without seeing what was posted no one can tell you if what was said was defamation or not. Facts are not defamation. Opinions are not defamation. If the attorney posted that you did not pay your bills, that is an accurate fact and not defamation by your own admission.
As to what the former attorney may have said to the other attorney, again we have no idea. Can the former attorney talk to them? Of course. Could the former attorney say you did not pay your bills or say other nonconfidential information? Yes. Moreover, you may have authorized your current attorney (and this is common and in fact required) to get all information. If a new attorney takes over it is common for them to get everything from the prior attorney including confidential information. This may be required to do their job and if you consented to this then the release of information does not violate any ethics rules.
As was advised, speak with your current attorney and get their opinions. All we can do is guess but based on what you have posted I am not sure the attorney has violated any professional responsibility rules. We just can't say merely from your allegations.
This answer is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice regarding your question and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
I also agree with the earlier advice about slander and libel. Also, I think you might have some confusion as to what an attorney's duty is toward client confidences. If there is information from your case that another attorney needs, the prior attorney should disclose it- so that the later attorney can represent you fully. And if there was information that was about what was included in your bankruptcy -- then that would be part of public record and not confidential.
Is this “helpful” or a “best” answer? Please mark it if it was, and I hope it was! Thank you! Nancy L. Ballast is an attorney in west Michigan, with a practice centered on family law, estate planning, and criminal law. www.nancyballastlaw.com
If you intend to file a civil claim for libel or slander, you will have to be prepared to prove your actual damages. Unless you can show actual damages related to the statements, you won't have much of a case.
With respect to client confidentiality issues, you can report what you have to attorney regulation and they will investigate to see if your complaint actually rises to the level of an ethics violation. You note that the attorney has posted "responses". Responses to what? If you have been posting about your attorney client relationship in a public forum, you may well have waived your attorney client confidentiality. You don't get to discuss your attorney communications online and then argue that the attorney is gagged and cannot respond.
If you believe your attorney is harassing you in order to collect their fees despite those fees being included in your bankruptcy, you need to talk to your bankruptcy attorney about taking action to enforce the bankruptcy stay or the discharge injunction.
You can reach Harkess & Salter LLC at (303) 531-5380 or info@Harkess-Salter.com. Stephen Harkess is an attorney licensed in the state and federal courts of Colorado. This answer is for general information only and does not create an attorney client relationship between Stephen Harkess or Harkess & Salter LLC and any person. You should schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss the specifics of your legal issues.
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