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Oct. 3 — The ethics rule against making false factual statements to third persons covers lies to opposing counsel, the Iowa Supreme Court held Sept. 16 ( Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Barnhill , 2016 BL 305056, Iowa, No. 16-0731, 9/16/16 ).
Rule 32:4.1(a) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct forbids false statements to third persons about material facts when representing a client. Opposing counsel is a third person within the meaning of that rule, even though there’s a separate professional conduct rule on fairness to opposing counsel, Justice Daryl L. Hecht said.
The opinion highlights the broad duty of honesty lawyers have towards anyone they deal with on behalf of on a client. Opposing counsel isn’t excluded from the universe of third persons to whom lawyers owe the obligation of truthfulness, according to the court.
The court found that Kathryn S. Barnhill violated Rule 32:4.1(a) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct in a fee dispute with a former client by falsely telling the ex-client’s counsel over and over that she had sent him a check for the balance of a fee arbitration award.
The court also found that Barnhill violated her duty not to make false factual statements to a court ( Rule 32:3.3(a)(1)) and the prohibition against filing meritless claims ( Rule 32:3.1) in the former client’s lawsuit seeking to collect the unpaid money.
Barnhill falsely told the court that she had tendered payment, and she lodged baseless counterclaims for abuse of process against the former client and opposing counsel, Hecht said.
However, the court said it wouldn’t find a violation of the general rule prohibiting dishonesty ( Rule 32:8.4(c)) because other rules Barnhill violated—Rule 3.3(a)(1) and Rule 4.1(a)—are more specific provisions dealing with the same misconduct.
The appropriate sanction for Barnhill’s misconduct and for her additional violations in a separate matter is an indefinite suspension with no possibility of reinstatement for six months, the court concluded.
Assistant Director Tara M. van Brederode and Patrick W. O’Bryan, Des Moines, Iowa, represented the disciplinary board. Barnhill, of Urbandale, Iowa, represented herself.
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