By Tom Del Beccaro
Published February 27, 2019
Michael Cohen has testified before Congress. America has now seen the very worst of what an attorney can be. His wanton breach of ethics has harmed not only the profession but, more importantly, the Americans it is meant to serve.
The purpose of the legal profession, or certainly should be, is to serve the interests of clients – not just rich clients, but every day Americans as well. In order to do that, it is the ethical requirement of every attorney in this country NOT to disclose the confidences of his or her client.
In New York, the cannon of ethics reads: “A lawyer shall not knowingly reveal confidential information . . . or use such information to the disadvantage of a client or for the advantage of the lawyer or a third person, unless . . . the client gives informed consent.”
As a practicing attorney of over 30 years, I can tell you that is no minor obligation. It is essential to the rights of clients and their ability to obtain justice.
The purpose of the attorney/client privilege is to encourage clients, everyday people, to disclose ALL of their information FREELY to their attorney so that the client can be represented in the very best interest of the CLIENT.
Without that inviolate ability, clients will be weakened in their ability to defend themselves or to pursue their rights. Lack of full disclosure can result in surprises at trial or before trial, because the other side may have information of which the client’s attorney would not.
In a very real sense, an attorney without all the information is an attorney unable to do the best for his or her client. Every opposing counsel or prosecutor would relish such an advantage.
Michael Cohen, over and over, purported to knowingly reveal confidential information of his client. No rational person, after witnessing Cohen, wouldn’t wonder whether their attorney could or would do the same to them.
Therefore and logically, any person who feels that the information they tell their attorney is not made in confidence, they will withhold information and therefore their ability to defend themselves and to be represented will be terribly compromised. In the criminal proceeding context, that would be catastrophic – especially for poor Americans who cannot afford expensive counsel.
Beyond that, when Mueller raided the office of attorneys and took all or substantially all of that attorney’s office documents, it sent a message to clients that the attorney/client privilege does not really exist.
The effect of that is to make clients wonder that if they disclose information and documents to their attorney, they could be seized. That also applies to clients of the attorney who are not even the subject of the investigation. Their information could be mistakenly taken as well. The effect of that also would be for clients to withhold information.
The gravity of the above cannot be overstated. It strikes at the rights of every American. The fact that the Democrats in Congress gave Cohen a forum to do the above, indeed, that they encouraged him to do so, should never be forgotten.