I overheard an attorney at a closing make a very disturbing remark, and investigated whether I should report him to the proper authority.
Counsel for said authority, an acquaintance, advised me that Rule 8.3 of NY’s Rules of Professional Conduct states that (a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer shall report such knowledge to a tribunal or other authority empowered to investigate or act upon such violation.
He cautioned that "knows" has “a high threshold.” Was I certain there was no joshing involved, or could I have taken the comment out of context? “Only you know what exactly you know about the matter,” he warned.
This is a very tough situation. I believe that the attorney was assisting in a wrongdoing, but do I know it? I thought the powers-that-be would investigate, and that I just needed to share what I heard.
But when it comes to being 100%, absolutely certain, I’m not so sure. The guy’s a sleaze and a bad lawyer, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough to trigger action. Which makes sense, because if ethics panels investigated every sleazy, ineffective attorney in NY, their annual budgets would be used up by January 5th every year.