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Opinion date: March 1, 2005

Ethics issue presented:

Under what circumstances may an attorney disclose threats made by his client to physically harm opposing counsel and an opposing party?

Facts as presented by Inquirer:

Inquirer represents Mr. Hot Underthecollar in civil litigation. Mr. U has expressed to Inquirer his frustration about the progress of the case and the attitudes of the opposing counsel and the opposing party. Mr. Underthecollar, at one point during a discussion with Inquirer, stated that he would like to physically harm both opposing counsel and the opposing party.

Advice given:

Inquirer was referred to Rule 1.6(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which permits a lawyer to reveal what otherwise would be protected confidential information "... to the extent that the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: (1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm..." Inquirer was first reminded that such disclosures of confidential communications under the rule were permissive and not mandatory. Inquirer, after discussion, believed that the statements of his client did not constitute a real or serious threat of imminent physical harm to either opposing counsel or the opposing party, and under those circumstances, Inquirer did not feel that the confidential communication would justify disclosure.

The foregoing is advisory only and is not binding on the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any given Court. It carries only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.

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