This week in legal news
- Opinions are split about the need for clear rules on technology competency requirements for judges
- New Jersey considers a law to give abused animals the right to legal representation
- California finds that security vulnerability in case management software was responsible for exposing 260,000 confidential records
- Lawyer receives 6-month suspension after his LinkedIn account reveals that he was engaging in “law-related activity” without a license
- After nearly 2,000 total ethics complaints in 2021, the New York Ethics Commission warns about social media use
- Law firm loses more than $200,000 to thieves, blames an online banking hack
Do judges need new ethics rules around technological competence? Opinions are split
In recent years, many state Bars have added rules surrounding an attorney’s duty of technological competence. This has sparked an interesting conversation — should the same requirement apply to judges?
Legal opinions are divided. Some people think that it is unreasonable to expect judges to spend extra time researching fast-paced technological change. Others feel that in modern tech-obsessed time, a new ethics rule is the only responsible way to proceed. Still another school of thought suggests that no additional rules are needed because the existing ethics rules for attorneys should already imply the same requirement for judges.
Still, some point to the 2012 passage of the American Bar Association’s Rule 1.1 Comment 8 that requires, in part, that “a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology” as well as 38 U.S. jurisdictions’ similar requirements, as indications judges should also be held to an analogous standard. “Our duties as lawyers is something that has been moving in that direction since the ABA made that change in 2012,” noted Spencer Fane partner John Browning. “But for judges, I think, it’s long overdue for a duty of tech competency. I think the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic with courts having to shift to videoconferencing platforms like Zoom has really underscored the importance of it.” (Via Law.com)
Given the fierce debate, legal professionals don’t know what to expect from future rules. However, it seems clear that tech-based cases will continue to become increasingly common, and all legal professionals must be prepared for the implications.
New Jersey considers offering legal advocacy for animals
Could your pet be entitled to a court-appointed attorney?
New Jersey is considering a law that would make them the third state to allow legal advocates for animals. Connecticut and Maine already have these laws on the books.
A bill that recently passed out of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee would provide court-appointed legal advocates for animals when they experience “pain, stress, or fear at human hands.” The New Jersey Senate passed a version of the bill last year, but because it never made it to the Assembly, the Senate would have to take it up again this session before the measure would become law. (Via FindLaw)
This program is similar to laws that appoint advocates for children. An animal advocate would act on behalf of the animal as their case moved through the court system. It would also recommend housing animals in foster care instead of shelters while the case proceeds.
California State Bar finds that security vulnerability, not hack, exposed 260,000 confidential attorney discipline files
Last week, we reported that the California Bar was investigating the cause of a data breech. Judyrecords.com posted 260,000 confidential records online, which were taken down shortly after discovery in February. The data had remained on the website from October 2021.
The State Bar has determined that this was not a hack or an illegal action, but a security vulnerability in the Tyler Technologies case management software.
In a statement released Monday evening, the bar backtracked from its initial report Saturday that the information was “unlawfully” posted by the website judytracker.com “Instead, it appears that a previously unknown security vulnerability in the Tyler Technologies Odyssey case management portal allowed the nonpublic records to be unintentionally swept up by judyrecords when they attempted to access the public records, using a unique access method,” the statement said. (Via Law.com)
At this time, no major incidents have been reported as a result of the exposed records.
Lawyer suspended for six months after LinkedIn reveals he was conducting “law-related activities” without a license
Andrew S. Hurwitz of Pennsylvania allowed his legal license to become inactive in 1996. He was later granted reinstatement to the Pennsylvania Bar in 2011, but was placed on administrative suspension in 2014 for failing to comply with annual registration requirements.
When Hurwitz applied for reinstatement in March 2021, a routine background check uncovered a LinkedIn account under the pseudonym Andy Blackman Hurwitz, which the attorney reportedly used as an author of children’s books. This LinkedIn account listed positions at Studio 1200 and 30AMP Circuit, and the profile indicated that Hurwitz was responsible for legal activities. His position was described as “in-house counsel” and one website listed him as “Andy Hurwitz, Esq.”
Upon finding that Hurwitz was conducting legal activities without a license, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended him for six months.
For his conduct involving Studio 1200, the ODC said Hurwitz violated the Rule 217(j) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Rule 5.5 in the Rules of Professional Conduct, or practicing law outside of jurisdiction. ODC said Hurwitz engaged in conduct involving misrepresentation in violation of RPC 8.4(c) during his time at 30AMP Circuit. The ODC noted Hurwitz’s acceptance of responsibility for failing to take the steps required to reinstate his Pennsylvania law license. Following the ODC’s inquiries, Hurwitz edited the account to remove his experience at Studio 1200 and 30AMP Circuit. (Via Law.com)
Hurwitz had also practiced in New York and was admitted to the Third Judicial Department of the State of New York in 1998. In 2008, he was suspended for nonpayment of annual fees.
New York’s State Commission on Judicial Conduct releases annual ethics report and recommends caution regarding social media posting
In 2021, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct processed 1,983 new ethics complaints. It also disclosed that it secured the public resignations of 23 judges who were accused of wrongdoing.
Upon releasing the annual report, the SCJC warned judges to adhere to financial disclosures and be careful about posting on social media. The report cited the continuing influx of social media related complaints.
In 2021 alone, the report said, one judge had entered a stipulated resignation after posting anti-LGBT messages online, and another was publicly admonished for posting statements that aligned him with law enforcement and undermined the appearance of judicial impartiality. (Via Law.com)
The SCJC goes on to say that reposting or commenting on someone else’s content is not a defense. They also raised concerns about compliance with state financial disclosure requirements.
Thieves steal more than $200,000 from law firm, firm blames online banking hack
Law firm Sapiro Gottlieb & Kroll has sued their bank after $202,660 was stolen from their attorney trust account. TD Bank N.A. denied the request for reimbursement of the losses because their investigation showed that the transactions were carried out on the law firm’s devices using their login credentials, indicating that the transfers happened from within the firm.
Thieves set up a username and password allowing them to withdraw $202,660 from the firm’s trust account between July 6 and July 15, 2021, according to the suit. They took the money in a series of payroll transactions and wire transfers that went to accounts at Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America, the suit said. The firm says it did not authorize the transactions and had no knowledge of them until July 15, when partner Lawrence Kroll noticed them while checking the account status online. (Via Law.com)
Partner Lawrence Kroll discovered the transactions on July 15 when checking the account status online. He went to their local bank branch and was informed that the transactions were completed from the username “lawrencekroll” via online banking.
The firm’s attorney said that he would like the full detail’s of the bank’s investigation to help determine whether they were hacked from inside or outside of the organization.