98 Formal Ethics Opinion 18

January 15, 1999

Revealing Confidential Information to Parents of Minor Client

 

Opinion rules that a lawyer representing a minor owes the duty of confidentiality to the minor and may only disclose confidential information to the minor's parent, without the minor's consent, if the parent is the legal guardian of the minor and the disclosure of the information is necessary to make a binding legal decision about the subject matter of the representation.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

Attorney A is defending Minor, who is 15 years old, against criminal charges. Minor is being tried as an adult. The State has offered Minor a plea to a reduced charge. Minor does not consent to the disclosure to his parents of any of the evidence against him or the plea offer. Is Attorney A required to disclose the information to Minor's parents?

 

Opinion #1:

 

Rule 1.14(a) of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer to "maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the client" although "[the] client's ability to make adequately considered decisions in connection with the representation is impaired...because of minority ...." Therefore, a lawyer owes the duty of confidentiality to a minor client and may not disclose confidential information to minor's parents unless there is an applicable exception in Rule 1.6(d) permitting disclosure. Rule 1.6(d)(3) permits a lawyer to reveal confidential client information when permitted by law or court order. A lawyer representing a minor may disclose confidential information to the minor's legal guardian, over the minor's objection, if the disclosure is necessary for the guardian to make a legally binding decision about the subject matter of the representation. See Rule 1.14, cmt. [3]. However, the lawyer may withhold confidential information from the legal guardian if the lawyer believes that the guardian is acting adversely to the interests of the child or the information is not necessary to make a decision about the representation.

 

In the present inquiry, Minor is being tried as an adult and the consent of Minor's parents is not necessary for Minor to make a legally binding decision about the plea agreement. Therefore, Attorney A must honor Minor's request and not disclose the information to Minor's parents.

 

Inquiry #2:

 

If Minor's parents are not his legal guardians but Minor instructs Attorney A to disclose the plea offer to his parent or parents, may Attorney A do so?

 

Opinion #2:

Yes, Rule 1.6(d)(2) permits a lawyer to disclose confidential information with the consent of the client.


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