ETHICS OPINION 259
NUMBER 259 1928
Question. 1. An attorney is retained to represent the defendant in a criminal prosecution. The defendant when arraigned, and before retaining the attorney and without any advice from the attorney, employed an alias. The attorney, when employed, knows the true name of the defendant.
In the opinion of the Committee, is it the duty of the lawyer to disclose to the Court or to the prosecuting attorney’s office the true name of the defendant, or is it proper for the attorney to represent the defendant under the name which the defendant assumed and without disclosing the true state of facts to the authorities?
2. A employs an attorney in connection with the purchase of certain real estate. For reasons undisclosed to the attorney, A desires to acquire title under an assumed name which he has adopted solely for the purposes of the one transaction. A has opened a bank account under such assumed name and is ready and able to pay all the sums of money to be paid in connection with the transaction. Is it proper for the attorney to represent A while A is acting under such assumed name without disclosing such fact to the sellers or their attorneys?
3. A consults an attorney and advises him that he is the owner of a given parcel of real estate which he acquired under an assumed name. A is in possession of the deed to the premises made to him under such assumed name, receipts for the payment of taxes, interest on mortgages, installments and other carrying charges during the period of the ownership of the property by A under such assumed name and also other evidences of ownership by A under such assumed name. The attorney satisfies himself that the signature of the name adopted by A is in the handwriting of A. A requests the attorney to represent him in connection with a sale of the said real estate, A during such sale acting under his said assumed name. Is it proper, in the opinion of the Committee, for the attorney to so represent A without disclosing the foregoing facts to the purchasers or their attorneys?
4. A engages in a series of transactions for the purchase and sale, at various times, of real property. In each of such transactions, A uses a different assumed name. In each transaction wherein A is the purchaser, bank accounts are opened under such assumed name and payment in full is made of each amount agreed to be paid by him while using such assumed name. In each case where A is a seller under an assumed name, investigation shows that while he was the owner of the property under such assumed name, all the incidental obligations of A as such owner under such assumed name, have been duly met by him.
Is it proper, in the opinion of the Committee, for the attorney to represent A in such series of transactions without disclosing the foregoing facts to the purchasers or sellers (as the case may be) or their attorneys involved in each of such transactions?
Answer. The Committee is of the opinion that the paramount duty of a lawyer, with certain recognized exceptions, not involved in the question, is to preserve inviolate the confidential disclosures made to him by his client. Consequently, without his client’s consent, he cannot with professional propriety make any of the disclosures indicated in the several inquiries.
Answering the specific questions:
1. In the opinion of the Committee it is not the duty of the attorney to make the disclosure; and in the opinion of a majority of the Committee, it is not improper for him to represent the client notwithstanding the facts assumed.
As to 2, 3, and 4, it is the opinion of the Committee that the danger of injuries to others by the use of the assumed name are such that the attorney ought not to participate in any of the transactions unless the name of the client is disclosed, and such disclosure ought to be so made that it will relieve the respective transactions of such danger according to the circumstances of the respective cases.