Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 132 (Revised). See Rule 4.2(b) for additional guidance.
Communications with Government Officials
Opinion rules that a lawyer for a party adverse to the government may freely communicate with government officials concerning the matter until notified that the government is represented in the matter.
Citizen C received a loan from the city which loan was secured by a deed of trust against certain real property owned by Citizen C. Sometime after obtaining the loan, Citizen C defaulted in making payments as specified in the note evidencing the obligation and was informed by the mortgage company servicing the loan that the city would proceed to foreclose if she failed to pay the arrearage owed on the loan. Citizen C then employed Lawyer L to represent her interests. Lawyer L wishes to contact a city employee who dealt with Citizen C in the origination of the loan to inquire as to whether the city would accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Lawyer L is aware that the city is generally represented by the city attorney who is a full-time salaried employee of the city. Under the circumstances may Lawyer L contact the city employee without the knowledge or consent of the city attorney?
Yes. This inquiry involves a matter in which there is no suggestion that Lawyer L has received notice of government lawyer participation in this particular matter; hence, the government employee to be contacted should not be deemed to be represented by another lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.4(a) which provides:
During the course of his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not:
(a) Communicate or cause another to communicate about the subject of the representation with a party the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.
If contact is made with the government employee, it is incumbent upon Lawyer L to fully disclose his representative capacity and to clearly state the reasons behind any request he might make on behalf of his client. So as to avoid any misunderstanding as to Lawyer L's role in the situation posited, Lawyer L should neither state nor in any manner imply that the city employee is cloaked with other than absolute discretion to respond or not to his communication. Rule 7.4(c).
Attorney A was retained to represent Client W relative to her claim for employment discrimination against the city. Prior to bringing suit, Attorney A would like to write a letter to the city manager to determine whether the city would care to negotiate a settlement of the claim and, failing that, whether the city might volunteer information which might have a bearing upon the claim's merit. Attorney A is aware that the city is represented by the city attorney, a full-time salaried employee of the city. May Attorney A write a letter to the city manager for the stated purpose without the knowledge or consent of the city attorney?
Yes. As there is no indication that Attorney A has received notice of the city attorney's participation in this particular matter, the answer will be as in Inquiry #1 above.
Lawyer B has been employed to represent a former city employee concerning a grievance filed by the employee relative to his termination from city employment. While the grievance is pending, Lawyer B would like to telephone a member of the city council for the purpose of offering her views regarding the law pertaining to her client's situation, complaining that her client is being treated unfairly and unlawfully and urging that the council member intervene and have her client reinstated. Lawyer B is aware that the city is generally represented by the city attorney, a full-time salaried city employee. May Lawyer B communicate with the council member in the manner described without the knowledge or consent of the city attorney?
No. Assuming from the question that the elected city council member either has or might have some adjudicatory authority over the particular matter at issue, contact with the elected city council member constitutes ex parte communication within the meaning of Rule 7.10(b) which provides:
In an adversary proceeding, a lawyer shall not communicate, or cause another to communicate, as to the merits of the cause with a judge or an official before whom the proceeding is pending except:
(1) In the course of official proceedings in the cause.
(2) In writing, if he promptly delivers a copy of the writing to opposing counsel or to the adverse party if he is not represented by a lawyer.
(3) Orally, upon adequate notice to opposing counsel or to the adverse party if he is not represented by a lawyer.
(4) As otherwise authorized by law.
If the city council member neither has nor will have adjudicatory authority over the particular matter at issue and there has been no notice given to Lawyer B of active participation by the city attorney in this particular matter, contact with the elected city council member would be proper under the circumstances.
If contact is made with the city council member, it is incumbent upon Lawyer B to fully disclose his representative capacity and to clearly state the reasons behind any request he might make on behalf of his client. So as to avoid any misunderstanding as to Lawyer B's role in the situation posited, Lawyer B should neither state nor in any manner imply that the elected city council member is cloaked with other than absolute discretion to respond or not to his communication. Rule 7.4(c).
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