ETHICS OPINION 319
NUMBER 319 1933
Question. An attorney has many clients within a certain trade. One of the former clients of the attorney circulates, maliciously and persistently, reports among the members of the trade imputing improper practices to the attorney, trying to induce the members of the trade either to stop giving to this attorney or not to retain him in any matter. To vindicate himself the attorney institutes an action for slander, alleging as many instances of similar occurrences as he could possibly ascertain. The former client interposes as an answer a general denial but does not plead the truth as a defense.
Is it professionally proper for the attorney to write a letter to the members of the trade, who are limited in number and do not exceed twenty, giving the attorney’s version of the situation and informing them of the nature of the answer interposed in the slander action?
Answer. Heretofore in answer to Opinion 218, this Committee expressed the opinion that a client who brings suit to rescind a contract on the ground of a false assertion that he was misled by his attorney, thereby waives his privilege, and the attorney may properly disclose to counsel for the adverse party the communications which he actually made to his client. It now appears to the Committee that the principle of self-protection extends equally to the refutation by all proper means of false charges made by the accuser. The suit is not the sole means to this end. In the opinion of the Committee, the accused lawyer may, with professional propriety, bring his refutation and the truth to the attention of those to whom the false accusations have been made.
If a lawyer is falsely accused by his client, he is not precluded from disclosing the truth in respect to the false accusations (Canon 37, Canons of Professional Ethics, A.B.A.).
If he is uncertain of the persons to whom the accusations have actually been made, he may without impropriety attempt to acquaint those to whom they are likely to have been made, with the same facts, and it is not improper to state the facts respecting the suit. But the expediency of so doing, and thus spreading the charges against himself and thus clouding his reputation, notwithstanding the refutation, may well cause the attorney to refrain from such a method of self-defense.