“How Long Should a Disciplinary Finding Haunt a Lawyer?”

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2008

Phrased thus (at Legal Ethics Forum) it seems like a rather loaded question, doesn’t it? Who’s supposed to come down in favor of haunting? (The controversy arises from the suit filed by Greenwich attorney Barbara Shea to force a Connecticut grievance committee to remove online records of disciplinary run-ins she had between 1997 and 2002). A contrasting way of posing the same question might be: how far should we go in letting lawyers curtail the public availability of embarrassing information about events that 1) really did happen; 2) were a matter of public record at the time; and 3) are of natural and legitimate interest to at least some clients?

I’m not sure I have an entirely satisfactory answer to that question, but I’m pretty confident that it’s an unsatisfactory approach for grievance committees to have to fear getting beaten up in court actions if they don’t strike the balance as leniently as lawyers might like. (Douglas S. Malin, “Trying To Make The Past Disappear”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Sept. 29; Elefant/Legal Blog Watch, Oct. 3).

P.S. Many interesting reader comments of which my favorite was this one from z0l0ft:

The year is 2020 —

Hey Honey, I was checking the internet and I found all this great information about a true pioneer of the fight against the corruption of our youth by the videogame industry. His name was Jack Thompson. I could find nothing negative about him, so he must have been great.

{ 1 trackback }

Lawyers “Haunted” by Public Availability of Bar Sanctions? - Avvo Blog
10.22.08 at 4:17 pm


1 Dr. Mary Johnson 10.22.08 at 9:28 am

Malpractice actions haunt doctors forever.

2 10803 10.22.08 at 9:38 am

I don’t have an answer either, but I sure was surprised when I saw it was for events as recent as 2002. Even 1997 seems pretty recent.

3 Ron Miller 10.22.08 at 9:57 am

Does it really matter? Couldn’t someone just cut and past the old stuff and put in on-line on another site? Won’t someone – make their local Overlawyered branch – do just that.

For better or for worse, the good and the bad we do that is a matter of public record is going to live on on-line forever. And I don’t think there are going to be any successful lawsuit brought by lawyers or anyone else to alter this trend.

I do disagree with Dr. Mary Johnson. Most states do not provide information about medical malpractice claims against doctors. I know North Carolina is working on this and it is causing a huge ruckus there.

4 Griffin3 10.22.08 at 11:02 am

Might want to check the facts before pulling numbers out of [the air]. More than 26 states (== most) have laws on the books requiring insurance companies to report malpractice claims to the state … and that seems to be rather haunting to me.

5 Ron Miller 10.22.08 at 12:02 pm

The question at issue is whether this information is published on line. Stay with me a bit, Griffin3, before getting to condescending, okay? Thanks in advance.

6 Dr. Mary Johnson 10.22.08 at 12:54 pm

Every time a doctor fills out a job or privilege application (be it with a hospital or an insurance company), they must list any/all malpractice actions/settlements/judgements. It can affect one’s ability to get the job or the insurance.

Moreover, all settlements & judgements are listed in the National Practitioners Data Bank. A listing in the Data Bank can be the “kiss of death” for a hospital-based physician. I believe this information is available on-line (albeit maybe for a fee).

I’m well aware of what is going on in North Carolina: http://drjshousecalls.blogspot.com/2008/06/dogs-and-ponies-one-does-not-even-get.html

I was there.

Like I said, in one way or another, malpractice actions haunt forever.

It should be that way for lawyers as well.

7 mojo 10.22.08 at 2:10 pm


As Baretta used to say: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

8 VMS 10.22.08 at 3:21 pm

Governor Patterson (NYS) recently signed a new law which requires that all medical malpractice verdicts and settlements be reported to Office of Professional Medical Conduct for their investigation. No physician wants to settle a malpractice case now because after being sued for malpractice, the physician is taken through the ringer a second time by the State.

9 Ron Miller 10.22.08 at 4:28 pm

I agree with Dr. Johnson. I absolutely think that it should be the same for doctors and lawyers. I also do not think either class should be separated out for caps for malpractice awards. But certainly everything Dr. Johnson says is true with lawyers as well. We all both have malpractice insurance applications and those things that come with that.

I don’t think you can get the doctors’ names from the databank. I could be proven wrong but I don’t think so.

10 jb 10.22.08 at 6:33 pm

Leaving doctors for the moment, former felons in many states lose the right to vote permanently. Some are barred from living in certain neighborhoods, or owning guns (in states without gun control laws). Every job application requires you to report if you have -ever- been convicted of a crime.

Lawyers should receive the same treatment. Or we can decide that legal punishment is about rehabilitation and cap all of this.

11 z0l0ft 10.22.08 at 8:13 pm

The year is 2020 –

Hey Honey, I was checking the internet and I found all this great information about a true pioneer of the fight against the corruption of our youth by the videogame industry. His name was Jack Thompson. I could find nothing negative about him, so he must have been great.

12 Bumper 10.23.08 at 2:03 am

Barbara Shea needs a big cup of get over yourself. This is the Internet, baby, once it’s out of the bottle there is no putting it back. OTOH it was nice of her to go for the Streisand effect and alert the many million or so who had no idea that she had problems and now has issues with being outed for having problems. Great stuff these electrons.

13 Jack Thompson, Attorney 10.23.08 at 6:08 am

Walter, you have absolutely no idea what my “disciplinary” proceedings are about. They were brought by entertainment industry companies I had out-litigated and had persuaded the federal government to fine them.

Do you think the bar disciplinary process should be used by opposing counsel as a means of collateral attack, even when The Florida Bar’s own Preamble prohibits that? I’m glad you find this all amusing. Next time you write something about something you know absolutely nothing about, how about you ask the people actually involved. My email is amendmentone@comcast.net, but you knew that. Jack Thompson, Attorney

14 Benji 10.23.08 at 9:20 am

Look what you did, Zoloft! By speaking his name you have summoned him here directly!

15 Jim Collins 10.23.08 at 10:29 am

“This is the Internet, baby, once it’s out of the bottle there is no putting it back.” Yep! Even if it was never in the bottle to begin with.

16 Todd Rogers 10.23.08 at 3:32 pm

Jack. Since you’re here, can I ask a question? What are the best “cheat codes” for Grand Theft Auto?

17 Jack Thompson, Once and Future Attorney (Trust Me) 10.30.08 at 4:30 pm

Tell “Honey” that in fact I am great, that The Bar couldn’t prove a single thing alleged against me, and I am about to restore my status as a lawyer. In the meantime, tear up your tix for the Obama Inaugural Ball. Ain’t gonna happen. Jack Thompson

Comments on this entry are closed.