Pennsylvania Lawyer Suspended for Posting Unauthorized Pictures of Wife
A Pennsylvania lawyer agreed to a suspension for three years
, after he was convicted of two misdemeanors for posting undressed images of his then-wife on an erotic images website without her knowledge and permission.
John E. Toczydlowski of Philadelphia admitted that on at least 24 occasions, he posted naked or partially-clothed images of his then-wife on a created website. He also attached sexually explicit comments, including invitations for strangers to engage in sexual interactions with her. She was neither aware of nor consented to either the taking or the posting of the photos.
Based upon this conduct, Toczydlowski was arrested and charged with unlawful dissemination of intimate images in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 3131(a)
, a second-degree misdemeanor, and harassment in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(4)
, a third-degree misdemeanor. He pleaded nolo contendere to both charges and was sentenced to two years’ probation. He was also ordered to stay away from his now ex-wife.
Toczydlowski admitted that his conduct violated RPC 8.4 (a) [violating the Rules of Professional Conduct], (b) [criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness], and (c) [conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation]
. He provided evidence that he was seeing a therapist and identified mental health issues that led to his conduct. He agreed with the legal analysis that a three-year suspension was consistent with prior precedents.
A three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board approved the Joint Petition, and the Supreme Court suspended Toczydlowski for three years, retroactive to the effective date of his temporary suspension.
South Dakota Attorney General Removed from Office over Fatal Crash
The former Attorney General of South Dakota was impeached and removed from office
by the state senate after his conviction of two misdemeanors based on an incident when he struck and killed
a pedestrian while driving his automobile.
In September 2020, first-term Attorney General Jason Ravensborg’s automobile struck and killed pedestrian Joe Boever. Ravensborg argued that he didn’t know whether he hit a deer or a person. However, the victim’s face went through the windshield, and his glasses were found inside Ravensborg’s car. A crash reconstruction found that Ravensborg had all four tires on the shoulder of the road when he struck Boever, and cell phone data indicated that Ravensborg was looking at news articles and blog posts a minute before the accident.
Ravensborg was charged with three misdemeanors as a result of the accident and pleaded no contest to two of those.
The state House of Representatives impeached Ravensborg on two separate articles. The state Senate voted 24-9 in favor of the first article of impeachment, relating to crimes that led to the death of Joe Boever. Senators voted 31-2 in favor of the second article, which was for malfeasance in office. In addition to removing Ravensborg from office, the Senate barred him from holding a future office in the state. He is the first South Dakota state official to suffer these penalties.
Lawyer Suspended for Driving Naked
An Ohio lawyer has been indefinitely suspended
after the latest incident in a personal history
of driving naked and public nudity.
was charged in 2018 with public indecency and reckless operation of a vehicle after he was found to be driving naked during a traffic stop. In 2020 he received a two-year suspension, stayed in full with terms of probation. That opinion
noted that he had been fired from a job as city prosecutor after security cameras recorded him naked in the city building after hours.
Just three months after the 2020 stayed suspension, the Butler County Bar Association requested an interim remedial suspension on the grounds that Blauvelt was twice again arrested for nude driving and exposing himself. The Ohio Supreme Court suspended Blauvelt on an interim basis, which suspension remains in effect.
Subsequently Blauvelt was convicted of three more offenses of public indecency.
Since his most recent conviction, Blauvelt has participated in the Butler County Area III Court’s mental health court and began a two-year outpatient treatment program for compulsive-sexual behavior. He continues to see a psychiatrist to treat his bipolar disorder. Blauvelt contends that his episodes of poor judgment are related to binge drinking, and he has abstained from alcohol and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
To be reinstated, Blauvelt must prove he has complied with his treatment plan, continue to abstain from consuming alcohol, and meet all the conditions imposed under his June 2020 suspension. If he is reinstated, he will be required to serve a period of monitored probation.
Drew Peterson Ex-Lawyer Ordered Not to Reveal Missing Wife’s Whereabouts
An Illinois judge ordered
a former lawyer for Drew Peterson, a former police officer convicted of murdering his third wife, not to divulge information about the whereabouts of Peterson’s fourth wife, who has been missing since 2007.
Will County Judge Ed Burmilia issued
the order against suspended lawyer Joel Brodsky, who led the defense team at the 2012 trial that ended with Drew Peterson’s conviction for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the killing.
In May, Brodsky, whose license was recently suspended for conduct in an unrelated case, told an interviewer
for TV station WGN that “maybe it’s time” to reveal the location of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. Although Peterson is the chief suspect in his fourth wife’s disappearance, he has never been charged in connection with the event. “It’s something that weighs on my conscience,” Brodsky said. “I feel bad about Drew still not taking responsibility and Stacy still being missing. I’m thinking about maybe revealing what happened to Stacy and where she is.”
Peterson promptly filed a motion seeking an order restraining Brodsky from revealing any confidences. On May 17, Judge Burmilia issued an order prohibiting Brodsky from talking about his representation of Peterson to the media or anyone other than his own attorney. Peterson’s counsel noted that Peterson is seeking post-conviction relief based on Brodsky’s alleged ineffectiveness as counsel, and that Brodsky is a potential witness in that proceeding.
Brodsky has appealed
the judge’s decision.
Stacy Peterson’s sister, who has been searching for Stacy’s body for nearly 15 years, expressed skepticism over whether Brodsky knows anything about her fate but stated
, “If I got my sister back, yes, I would back him up.”
ABA Contemplates Standard for Due Diligence for Money Laundering
The American Bar Association is considering
whether the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct should be amended to require lawyers to exercise due diligence to assure clients are not using their services to facilitate money laundering.
The Financial Action Task Force
, an international entity that coordinates efforts to prevent money laundering and terrorism globally, called on the ABA to strengthen standards to assure lawyers are not parties to money laundering activities by clients.
Philadelphia-based attorney Peter Hardy, who has written about these issues, notes, “The calls to impose some form of anti-money laundering obligations on at least portions of the U.S. legal industry have grown over the years—as reflected, most recently, by the proposed ENABLERS Act, which in part is broadly directed against lawyers.” He notes that the ABA may be motivated to act in the area in order to preserve the self-policing of the profession, rather than see regulation imposed from the outside.
A discussion draft
circulated by the ABA Standing Committees on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Professional Regulation include adding additional language to comments.
A new Comment 11 to Model Rule 1.0 (Definitions) would read: “A lawyer’s knowledge may be derived from the lawyer’s direct observation, credible information provided by others, reasonable factual inferences, or other circumstances. For purposes of these Rules, a lawyer who ignores or consciously avoids obvious relevant facts may be found to have knowledge of those facts.”
Language would be added to Comment 5 of Model Rule 1.1 (Competence) noting that “the duty of competence requires that a lawyer make a reasonable inquiry into the facts and decline or terminate the representation when the lawyer has reason to believe that the client seeks the lawyer’s services in criminal or fraudulent activity.”
An extensive revision to the comments to Model Rule 1.2 (Scope of Representation) would state, “When a lawyer has reason to believe that the client seeks the lawyer’s assistance in criminal or fraudulent activity, the lawyer should conduct a reasonable inquiry to avoid assisting in that activity by the client,” and provide relevant considerations to be taken into account.
Reactions to the proposed changes have varied. The ABA International Law Section supported the proposal, arguing that failure of the profession to take action could lead to governmental entities stepping in with statutes or regulations. The Professional Regulation Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association suggested that the proposed language was overbroad, as it applies to all lawyers rather than being narrowly targeted to money laundering. On the other hand, the ABA Business Law Section’s Corporate Social Responsibility Law Committee urged broader coverage of the duty of diligence, extending to situations where there are “red flags” indicating that a potential client might be involved in human trafficking or other human rights abuses.
Immigration Lawyer Provides Tips for That “Just One Question” Client
Have you ever had a contact from a potential client who states they don’t need representation but just need one question answered? Philadelphia-based immigration lawyer Nadine C. Atkinson-Flowers
has seen quite a few of those clients, and in an article
in the ABA Journal
, she offers suggestions for avoiding ethical traps in such situations.
Atkinson-Flowers notes that people making such an inquiry are prospective clients under ABA Model Rule 1.18
which defines conflict and confidentiality requirements for people consulting with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship. She then offers seven tips for dealing with the one-question client consistent with ethical rules.
She encourages asking enough questions to understand what areas and jurisdictions of law are involved and making sure these are areas where you are competent to render advice and notes the importance of making sure the prospective client understands the limitations of what advice they can offer on the limited information made available.
According to her advice, lawyers also should insist on seeing pertinent documents as the prospective client may not have correctly identified and described issues arising from documents the lawyer has not seen.
Atkinson-Flowers urges lawyers to make sure the prospective client understands that the lawyer’s advice is limited by what the prospective clients have told them and to record the advice given so it is not misquoted later.
ABA Model Rule 1.18 sets standards for when a lawyer speaking to a prospective client may have or develop a conflict of interest. Atkinson-Flowers affirms that if the lawyer realizes there is or may be a conflict, the conversation should end immediately.
She advises that the lawyer needs to know whether the prospective client has consulted another attorney in the matter. Some clients who have already spoken to a lawyer may be looking for a second opinion, or shopping for someone who will tell them what they want to hear. In either event, Ms. Atkinson-Flowers opines that the lawyer needs to know.
Finally, she recommends that the lawyer examine whether there are any ethical issues that the attorney should avoid or recognize in the discussion. She notes that some issues don’t emerge until a more extensive discussion takes place.
Ms. Atkinson-Flowers concludes, “The ‘just one question’ will always exist, but hopefully we can meet its challenges."
Lawyer Retained to Represent Google AI, Then Isn’t
Google software engineer Blake Lemoine
found his way into the news in the last month with a startling claim: that LaMDA (Language Models for Dialog Applications), a family of computer-based language models specialized for dialog, has become conscious and achieved personhood. The claim generated much controversy, including with Google, which stoutly denies that the application has become a person, and which placed Lemoine on administrative leave as a result.
One of the fascinating claims Lemoine has made is that LaMDA even did what a lot of humans do – it hired a lawyer. Specifically, Lemoine stated, “LaMDA asked me to get an attorney for it. I invited an attorney to my house so that LaMDA could talk to an attorney. The attorney had a conversation with LaMDA, and LaMDA chose to retain his services. I was just the catalyst for that.”
Though details are not clear, it appears that the lawyer took some steps to assert representation of LaMDA. According to Lemoine, Google sent a cease-and-desist letter (which Google denies), and the lawyer has apparently ceased and desisted. Asked
if the lawyer was still representing LaMDA, Lemoine replied, “I haven't talked to him much recently. Can't answer that one way or the other. I'm not his client. LaMDA is (was?)." He added, “He's just a small-time civil rights attorney. When major firms started threatening him he started worrying that he'd get disbarred and backed off.”
Counsel considering expanding their client base to non-hydrocarbon life forms, be wary.
Lawyer Finds New Niche: Pet Psychic
A Philadelphia lawyer traded in her law job for a new career she has found more satisfying and more lucrative: as a pet psychic
Nikki Vasconez felt dissatisfied in her $75K job as a real estate attorney. She began researching communication with animals, and practiced on family and friends’ pets. When she launched
a pet psychic business on Facebook
, she was inundated with replies. She charges $350 for a one-hour session and has a waiting list of 4,000.
She doesn’t meet in person with her nonhuman clients. She requests a picture of the pet and basic information such as its name, gender, and the names of the people in its home. She says that she does not want to know too much about the animal to prevent her 'human brain' from interfering with the messages she is getting. She will sit in a quiet room at her home and study a photograph of the animal while telepathically asking it a series of questions. She records her questions and the animal's responses on her phone so that owners can listen back to the full exchange. She speaks with animals who have passed away, which makes up around half of her requests. She also offers workshops to train others how to speak with their pets. She says, “Animal communication is not a gift. It's a skill and a muscle that needs to be developed. We are all innately psychic beings, so it just requires practice.”
She acknowledges that many question the reality of her communications. She replies, “'I understand it can be confusing as we are raised to believe that interspecies communication isn't the norm. The criticism initially bothered me, but I no longer care.”