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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.


Rhode Island Legal Ethics

VIII. MAINTAINING THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROFESSION

8.1   Rule 8.1 Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters

8.1:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.1
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.1, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

8.1:101      Model Rule Comparison

RI Rule 8.1, while not following MR 8.1 verbatim, is substantially similar to the Model Rule.

8.1:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 8.1 and other jurisdictions.

8.1:200   Bar Admission

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.1
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.1, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA §§ 21:101, 10l:1, ALI-LGL § 2, Wolfram §§ 15.2, 15.3

8.1:210      Bar Admission Agency

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.1:220      Bar Admission Requirements

RI Rule 8.1(a) dictates, "the duty imposed by this Rule extends to persons seeking admission to the bar as well as to lawyers."

8.1:230      Admission on Motion

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.1:240      Admission Pro Hac Vice

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.1:300   False Statements of Material Face in Connection with Admission or Discipline

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.1(a)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.1(a), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA §§ 21:301, 101:201, Wolfram § 15.3.1

RI Rule 8.1(a) provides that a lawyer in disciplinary matters or an applicant for admission to the bar is prohibited from knowingly making a false statement of material fact. See In re Press, 627 A.2d 842 (R.I. 1993) (holding that an applicant for the bar who knowingly made false statements in connection with admission to the bar and lack of candor with regard to testimony in front of the Committee on Character and Fitness warranted a 90-day suspension).

It constitutes professional misconduct for a lawyer in a disciplinary proceeding to fail to respond to a disciplinary complaint or knowingly to make a false statement of material fact in responding to such a complaint. See In re Mosca, 686 A.2d 927 (R.I. 1996).

Where an attorney failed to exercise diligence by failing to provide his clients with documents, to communicate with them to resolve the matter, and to respond during disciplinary investigations, and when he had a history of receiving admonishments and reprimands, the proper disciplinary action was indefinite suspension. In re Cozzolino, 774 A.2d 891 (R.I. 2001).

Where, inter alia, an attorney failed to respond to four additional pending petitions for disciplinary action and failed to maintain appropriate contact with health care provider treating him for depression and panic disorder, the proper disciplinary action was suspension until the attorney could prove to the court that he was capable of resuming the practice of law and attending to representing his clients. In re MacLean, 774 A.2d 888 (R.I. 2001).

8.1:400   Duty to Volunteer Information to Correct a Misapprehension

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.1(b)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.1(b), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

Separate from a lawyer making false statements in connection with admission or discipline, it is an additional offense for a lawyer to "knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand for information from an admissions, disciplinary or education authority" or to knowingly misrepresent or omit material facts in connection with a disciplinary matter regarding the lawyer's own conduct. See Lisi v. Biafore, 615 A.2d 473 (R.I. 1992). See also In re Grochowski, 687 A.2d 77 (R.I. 1996) (holding that failure to timely respond to requests from the disciplinary counsel violated RI Rule 8.1(b).

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.1:410      Protecting Client Confidential Information

RI Rule 8.1 does not require that an attorney disclose information that is otherwise protected. In addition, the comment to RI Rule 8.1 proscribes that "a lawyer representing an applicant for admission to the bar, or representing a lawyer who is the subject of a disciplinary inquiry or proceeding, is governed by the rules applicable to the client-lawyer relationship."

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.1:500   Application of Rule 8.1 to Reinstatement Proceedings

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.1(b)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.1(b), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

[The discussion of this topic has not yet been written.]

8.2   Rule 8.2 Judicial and Legal Officials

8.2:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.2
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.2, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

8.2:101      Model Rule Comparison

Rhode Island has adopted MR 8.2 including the Comments thereto.

8.2:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 8.2 and other jurisdictions.

8.2:200   False Statements About Judges or Other Legal Officials

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.2(a)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.2(a), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:601, ALI-LGL § 114, Wolfram § 11.3.2

RI Rule 8.2(a) is identical to the MR 8.2(a). The comment provides that Lawyers are called upon to assess both the professional and personal fitness of those being considered for appointment to the bench or public legal office. Lawyers are obligated to be honest in expressing their opinions and assessments of judges or other legal officials because false statements can unfairly jeopardize public confidence in the judicial system.

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.2:300   Lawyer Candidates for Judicial Office

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.2(b)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.2(b), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:601, ALI-LGL § 114, Wolfram § 17.2

The comment states that a lawyer seeking judicial office is bound by applicable limitations on political activity. Furthermore, as an officer of the court, lawyers are encouraged to defend judges and the courts in order to maintain the impartial and independent administration of justice.

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.3   Rule 8.3 Reporting Professional Misconduct

8.3:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.3
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.3, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

8.3:101      Model Rule Comparison

Rhode Island has adopted the first three sections of MR 8.3. However, it has expanded upon when the duty to report commences, as well as who is required to report a violation.

8.3:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 8.3 and other jurisdictions.

8.3:200   Mandatory Duty to Report Serious Misconduct

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.3(a)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.3(a), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:201, ALI-LGL § 5, Wolfram § 12.10

Like the Model Rules, a lawyer who has knowledge that another lawyer has violated the rules of professional conduct is required to report that person. The commentary stresses the importance of the self-regulation of the legal profession to report disciplinary infractions. It further states that reporting a violation is crucial because although the reporter may view it as an isolated incident, it may in fact be one in a long history of misconduct. Furthermore, although a lawyer is obligated to report every violation, a measure of judgment is necessary to comply with the rule. Reports should be made to the bar disciplinary committee, unless another agency is more suitable.

RI Rule 8.3 simply outlines the scope of mandatory reporting on one's fellow attorney; attorneys may report lesser infractions as they see fit. RI Eth. Op. 90-4 (1990). If an attorney reasonably believes the conduct of another lawyer rises to RI Rule 8.3's level of seriousness, he or she must report it. If he or she does not reasonably believe it rises to that level of seriousness, he or she is under no obligation to report the conduct. See id. See also RI Eth. Op. 90-8 (1990).

A Rhode Island attorney who is also a member of another state's bar does not have a duty under RI Rule 8.3 to report a violation of the other state's Code of Professional Conduct where that state's Code does not require mandatory reporting. RI Eth. Op. 93-63 (1993).

8.3:300   Reporting the Serious Misconduct of a Judge

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.3(b)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.3(b), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:201, ALI-LGL § 5, Wolfram § 12.10

A lawyer is obligated under RI Rule 8.3. to report a judge to the proper authorities if that lawyer has knowledge that the judge has violated a rule of judicial conduct. As mentioned above, lawyers are under the same obligation to report infractions committed by judges.

8.3:400   Exception Protecting Confidential Information

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.3(c)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.3(c), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:201, ALI-LGL §§ 61-66, Wolfram § 12.10

RI Rule 8.3 does not require disclosure of information protected by RI Rule 1.6, however lawyers are encouraged to urge consent to disclose where prosecution for the infraction would not seriously jeopardize the clients interests. RI Eth. Op. 94-54 (1994), RI Eth. Op. 94-62 (1994).

A lawyer who is representing a lawyer charged with misconduct need not disclose information, because the relationship is governed by the attorney-client privilege. In re Ethics Advisory Panel Opinion No. 92-1, 627 A.2d 317 (RI 1993). The Court will not limit the scope of the confidentiality rule in order to strengthen the rule governing the duty to report misconduct of other attorneys." See id. The Court also enumerated that "the duty of confidentiality prohibit[s] [the] inquiring attorney from reporting misconduct of another attorney without client's consent, where [the] inquiring attorney learned of the misconduct during the misrepresentation of a client." See id. Where one lawyer confesses his misconduct to another, the admission is not protected under RI Rule 1.6 and therefore there is a duty to report the misconduct. R.I. Eth. Op. 95-10 (1995).

8.4   Rule 8.4 Misconduct

8.4:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

8.4:101      Model Rule Comparison

Rhode Island has adopted MR 8.4, with the exception that the RI Rule expands upon the forms of discrimination that constitute conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. RI Rule 8.4 provides areas that constitute professional misconduct.

8.4:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 8.4 and other jurisdictions.

8.4:200   Violation of a Rule of Professional Conduct

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(a)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(a), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:101, ALI-LGL § 2, Wolfram § 3.3

A lawyer may not violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, a lawyer may not knowingly assist or induce a person to act in violation of the Rules. The commentary illustrates that offenses that constitute a violation of the Rules are those that involve moral turpitude; however, the acts must be connected to the practice of law. A "good-faith" exception is provided, allowing a lawyer to refuse compliance with a legal obligation if he or she has a valid belief that no obligation exists.

Attorneys are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct whether or not they are acting in professional capacity; thus, an attorney/investment advisor may not pay another attorney a referral fee from the proceeds of a commission received in the "investment advisor" capacity without violating RI Rule 8.4(a). RI Eth. Op. 93-94 (1993).

8.4:300   Commission of a Crime

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(b)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(b), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:301, ALI-LGL § 8, Wolfram § 3.3.2

A lawyer may not commit a crime that impedes the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in any regard. A lawyer need not be convicted of a crime in order to be charged with misconduct. Carter v. Cole, 577 A.2d 669 (R.I. 1990). Reciprocal discipline applies if a lawyer has been subject to disciplinary action in a state other than Rhode Island. See Carter, 577 A.2d at 671, holding that a suspension from the state of Florida warranted identical suspension under the reciprocal discipline statute.

8.4:400   Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, and Misrepresentation

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(c)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(c), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:401, ALI-LGL § 2, Wolfram § 3.3.3

A lawyer may not participate in any conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

False signing of clients' names and notarization on interrogatories is similar to perjury and warranted a one-year suspension from the practice of law. Lisi v. Resmini, 603 A.2d 321 (R.I. 1992).

Delaying the forwarding of client funds to successor counsel and appropriating the funds for the attorney's own use warrants disbarment. Lisi v. Hines, 610 A.2d 113 (R.I. 1992). See also In re Watt, 701 A.2d 319 (R.I. 1997) (converting and commingling of client funds supported a one-years suspension).

An attorney was disbarred after he had received a number of complaints with varying degrees of disciplinary action, thus evidencing the court's attempt to combat repeat offenders. Lisi v. Biafore, 615 A.2d 473 (R.I. 1992).

Knowingly making false statements of material fact on bar application and when testifying before the committee on character and fitness resulted in suspension for ninety days. In re Press, 627 A.2d 842 (R.I. 1993).

Settling a case without client consent after representing to opposing counsel that client had consented resulted in suspension for sixty days. In re Nugent, 624 A.2d 291 (R.I. 1993).

An attorney who left the scene of a fatal car accident without making a concentrated search effort for the victim was disbarred. In re Souls, 669 A.2d 532 (R.I. 1996).

Engaging in a sexual relationship with a client as well as certifying said client's false statements warranted a three-month suspension. In re DiPippo, 678 A.2d 454 (R.I. 1996).

An attorney was disbarred during a reciprocal disciplinary process after being convicted of 35 counts of bank fraud. In re Concemi, 706 A.2d 1318 (R.I. 1998).

Refusing to return retainer on the grounds that the remaining money was a minimum, nonrefundable fee, in contradiction to the written client fee agreement providing that the retainer would be used toward hourly charges, is a misrepresentation justifying public censure and the return of the disputed retainer. In re Pearlman, 627 A.2d 314 (R.I. 1993).

An attorney who intentionally lies to his or her client about the status of the client's claim violates his or her fiduciary duty of honesty to the client and frustrates the very purpose for which the attorney has been retained. See In re Brousseau, 697 A.2d 1079 (R.I. 1997).

Attorney's withdrawal of money as fees from ward's funds without the court's permission and failure to comply with court order directing attorney to reimburse excess fees to estate for which attorney was appointed guardian constituted conversion of funds in violation of Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. In the Matter of Krause, 737 A.2d 874 (R.I. 1999).

The conversion of funds is "fraud" and "dishonesty" as proscribed by Rule 8.4. In Re Dipippo, 745 A.2d 736 (R.I. 2000).

Attorneys acceptance of settlement offer against his client’s expressed directive, failure to advise client of settlement, and a receipt of settlement monies, commingling of client and personal funds in same bank account, and failure to forward to client monies received on client’s behalf for more than one year, while deceiving client as to status of case, violated Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and warranted 90-day suspension from practice of law, in light of significant mitigating factors, including attorney’s clean disciplinary record, cooperation, contrition, and repayment of client’s funds in full before client filed disciplinary complaint. In the Matter of A. Indeglia, 765 A.2d 444 (R.I. 2001).

Where an attorney misled her client to believe that she filed a civil action on her client's behalf and was attempting to resolve the case, failed to respond to her client's inquiries, and delayed the return of her client's file and fees, the attorney violated Rule 8.4(c), and the proper disciplinary action was public censure. In re Veiga, 783 A.2d 911 (R.I. 2001).

When an attorney fails to exercise diligence by neglecting to pursue the legal matters of his clients, fails to keep his clients reasonably informed of the state of their legal matters, and fails to provide either an accounting or refund of unearned portions of fees to his clients when requested upon termination of his representation, he should be publicly censored. In re Foster, 826 A.2d 94 (R.I. 2003).

Attorney is disbarred for his wrongful conversion of client funds. While disbarment is only a presumptive sanction for a misappropriation of client funds, attorney here engaged in no mitigating activity that might otherwise rebut such a presumption. In re Coningford, 815 A.2d 54 (R.I. 2003).

Attorney is punished with a 60-day suspension for misappropriation of funds from his law firm. Factors that the Court considered included the attorney's cessation of misappropriating funds and commitment, later achieved, to make restitution before his partners discovered his misdeeds. In re O'Leary, 818 A.2d 676 (R.I. 2003).

When defense counsel filed a motion to disqualify the judge from the case based in part on a false and misleading affidavit and on other allegations that were unsupported, they violated the Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct causing their pro hac vice status to be revoked. Obert v. Republic Western Ins. Co., 264 F.Supp.2d 106 (R.I. 2003).

8.4:500   Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(d)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(d), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:501, ALI-LGL § 2, Wolfram § 3.3.2

Hiring as a legal assistant to perform paralegal duties a lawyer who was suspended from the practice of law as a result of a felony conviction would violate a Provisional Order of the Supreme Court and therefore would violate RI Rule 8.4(d). R.I. Eth. Op. 90-12 (1990).

Because an attorney is bound by applicable rules of professional conduct whether or not he or she is acting in a professional capacity, for an attorney to act as an administrator represented by counsel or as an unrepresented co-executor of an estate during his suspension from the practice of law would violate RI Rule 8.4(d). R.I. Eth. Op. 90-22 (1990).

8.4:600   Implying Ability to Influence Public Officials

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(e)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(e), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:701, ALI-LGL § 113

An attorney who married the clerk of a judge before whom the attorney and his firm frequently appear does not violate RI Rule 8.3(e) where the clerk's duties are ministerial and the clerk does not have the ability to influence the judge on legal issues, so long as the attorney and the firm do not imply that they have the ability to improperly influence the judge. R.I. Eth. Op. 92-78 (1992).

An attorney-wife, serving as a chief hearing officer, must take great caution to insulate and recuse herself from any situation where the attorney-husband, a private practitioner, is involved so as to avoid violating RI Rules 1.8, (Conflict of Interest), 8.4(e), and 8.4(f). R.I. Eth. Op. 92-56 (1992).

8.4:700   Assisting Judge or Official in Violation of Duty

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4(f)
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.4(f), Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § , ALI-LGL § 113

It is ethically appropriate for an attorney to invite members of the judiciary to a holiday party; because the value is minimal, such parties are customary, and the party will be hosted by the bench/bar committee, and not one attorney or firm, the invitation does not violate canon 21 of Rhode Island Judicial Ethics and therefore does not violate RI Rule 8.4(f). R.I. Eth. Op. 92-90 (1992). Making loans to a judge has been held to warrant disciplinary sanctions. Lisi v. Several Attorneys, 596 A.2d 313 (R.I. 1991) (Murray, J., Weisberger, J., dissenting) (enumerating the factors to be considered in determining the appropriate discipline for an ethical violation of making a loan to a judge).

An attorney-wife, serving as a chief hearing officer, must take great caution to insulate and recuse herself from any situation where the attorney-husband, a private practitioner, is involved so as to avoid violating RI Rules 1.8, (Conflict of Interest), 8.4(e), and 8.4(f). R.I. Eth. Op. 92-56 (1992).

8.4:800   Discrimination in the Practice of Law

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4
• Background References: Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 1:801, 61:601

Rhode Island has not adopted a comparable provision for Discrimination in the Practice of Law.

8.4:900   Threatening Prosecution

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.4
• Background References: Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 1:801, 61:601

Rhode Island has not adopted a comparable provision for Threatening Prosecution.

8.5   Rule 8.5 Jurisdiction

8.5:100   Comparative Analysis of Rhode Island Rule

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.5
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.5, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary:

8.5:101      Model Rule Comparison

RI Rule 8.5 is substantially similar to MR 8.5, with the exception that the Model Rule is more sweeping in nature. Although the language is more concise than that of the Model Rule, it encompasses the essential points for determining the governing jurisdiction.

8.5:102      Model Code Comparison

Rhode Island has not adopted a Model Code comparison. See MR 8.5 and other jurisdictions.

8.5:200   Disciplinary Authority

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.5
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.5, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:2001, ALI-LGL § 5, Wolfram § 3.2

A lawyer admitted to practice in the State of Rhode Island is subject to the disciplinary authority of Rhode Island although involved in the practice of law elsewhere. In order to constitute practice in a jurisdiction, it must be substantial and continuous.

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.

8.5:300   Choice of Law

• Primary Rhode Island References: RI Rule 8.5
• Background References: ABA Model Rule 8.5, Other Jurisdictions
• Commentary: ABA/BNA § 101:2101, ALI-LGL § 2, Wolfram § 2.6.1

There is no authority in Rhode Island on this topic.