8.4 Misconduct

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate any provision of either the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct or the Maine Bar Rules, or knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal or unlawful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Maine Bar Rules or law; or

(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or law.


COMMENT

[1] Lawyers are subject to discipline when they violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so or do so through the acts of another, as when they request or instruct an agent to do so on the lawyer’s behalf. Paragraph (a), however, does not prohibit a lawyer from advising a client concerning action the client is legally entitled to take.

[2] Many kinds of unlawful conduct reflect adversely on fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Traditionally, the distinction was drawn in terms of offenses involving“moral turpitude.” That concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. A lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation.

[3] Legitimate advocacy does not violate paragraph (d). However, by way of example, a lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, violates paragraph (d) when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a trial judge’s finding that peremptory challenges were exercised on a discriminatory basis does not alone establish a violation of this rule.

[4] A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law.

[5] Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers. The same is true of abuse of positions of private trust such as trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, agent and officer, director or manager of a corporation or other organization.


REPORTER’S NOTES:

Model Rule 8.4 (2002) is substantively equivalent to M. Bar. R. 3.2(f), 3.4(g) and 3.6(g). The Task Force recommended the term “unlawful,” rather than the 2002 Model Rule terms “illegal,” and “criminal.” The Task Force thought that the term “unlawful” was inclusive of and broader than criminal conduct. It is clear that if a lawyer engaged in criminal conduct, he or she would violate these Rules.

The Task Force observed that “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice” is one upon which courts and ethics commissions are reluctant to expand. The Task Force was mindful of the various illustrations provided in Maine Professional Ethics Advisory Opinions. For example the Law Court has found that when a lawyer converts client funds, such conduct is prejudicial to the administration of justice. Because the Task Force thought Model Rule 8.4 (2002) set forth a sound and concise articulation of the rules addressing attorney misconduct, it recommended adoption of Model Rule 8.4 (2002) with the noted modifications.


Advisory Note - February 2010

When the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct were adopted, they along with the Maine Bar Rules were written or amended to indicate that ethical violations could be found, and disciplinary action initiated, based on the violation of either set of rules. This amendment to Rule 8.4, which was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Professional Responsibility, corrects an oversight in the original rules and clarifies that lawyers are subject to discipline when they violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Profoessional Conduct or the Maine Bar Rules, or knowingly assist or induce another to do so or do so through the acts of another, as when they request or instruct an agent to do so on the lawyer's behalf. Paragraph (a), however, does not prohibit a lawyer from advising a client concerning action the client is legally entitled to take.