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A LAWYER’S DUTY TO HIS/HER CLIENT: Do Harvey Weinstein and Attorney David Boies Deserve Eternal Suffering in Dante’s Inferno?

By:       Pamela A. Lee, Esquire

The salacious details of the multitude of allegations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment, sexual assault and economic abuse are deeply disturbing.  We can easily envision Dante and Virgil seeing Harvey Weinstein being blown violently back and forth by hurricane-strength winds in Dante’s second circle of hell (lust) or perhaps stuck forever in the river of boiling blood and fire in the seventh circle (violence) for his tyrannical behavior.

Whatever circle of hell we envision Weinstein in, we could understand if Dante and Virgil met him there.  But can we understand why the New York Times is making a big fuss over Weinstein’s attorney David Boies, and could we envision Dante meeting Boies in one of his circles of hell?
Lawyer jokes aside – no, we do not all deserve a spot in Dante’s Inferno just because we are lawyers – you should know that Boies also happened to represent the New York Times several times in the past ten years.

It has been reported that Boies, on Weinstein’s behalf, contracted with and paid for an investigative agency called Black Cube – an agency purportedly with Israeli-trained elite military and governmental intelligence units.  It was further reported that Black Cube’s assignment was to collect information on the women making the allegations against Weinstein and stop the publication of the abuse allegations that were eventually reported by the New York Times and The New Yorker.

So what’s the big deal?  Boies’ hiring of a company on behalf of a client – Weinstein – that purportedly sought to undermine the integrity of another client – the New York Times – is considered a big no-no in the legal profession.

There are rules of professional ethics that we attorneys must adhere to.  These rules are regulated by each state’s judicial branch in which we practice.  We have conflict of interest rules regarding our duties to our current clients and former clients.  For example, we cannot represent a client if that representation is directly adverse to another client.  Generally speaking, we usually cannot represent a client whose interests would materially and adversely affect the interests of a current client or a former client.

Why are conflict of interest rules so important to our profession? Because lawyers owe a duty of loyalty to their clients.  Although that duty may diminish when our representation of a client ends, we always have a duty of confidentiality which remains after representation among other duties.  Notably, if we have an ongoing relationship with a client for years but do not have any active matters open with that client, we still owe a duty of loyalty to that client because that “former” client still considers us to be their attorney.

Tellingly, Dante puts sinners of fraud – including fraud in counsel, authority and influence-in his eighth circle of hell and thus, closer to the Devil because he considered their sins worse than, say, lustful sinners who are in the second circle or the violent sinners in the seventh circle. Why?  My personal take is because these sinners unravel the fabric of our society and inner weaving of our societal relationships.

The conflict of interest rules and duty of loyalty are intended to prohibit attorneys from using their position and knowledge of a client against that client for the benefit of another client. This may be one of several issues the New York Times has with Boies.

Although Boies likely will not face any legal repercussions for his actions, the New York Times cut ties with him and his law firm.  Whether or not the public can envision him suffering in one of the circles in Dante’s hell is entirely up the public, but it would not surprise me if some people do.

If you who have hired lawyers who do not consider their professional ethical obligations to their clients of paramount importance, or if they rely on a few Hail Mary’s to save their soul for using their position and knowledge gained in confidence against the one who confided in them,  it’s probably time to find another attorney.  Ethical attorneys can be a zealous advocate – and if necessary, even an ethical “pitbull” – on behalf of their clients without selling their soul to represent a client whose interests are directly adverse to another client.

The attorneys at the Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP can help.  Contact Pamela A. Lee, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send her an e-mail at plee@dioriosereni.com
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