Attorney Sanctioned $50,000 For Disclosure of Child Custody Evaluation via Deposition Questions
All family law practitioners should pay special attention to this case. The Court majorly slapped an attorney on the wrist (ordering HER, not her client, to pay $50,000 in sanctions for violation of the law which states child custody evaluations are confidential and must not be disclosed). Child custody evaluations are confidential under Family Code section 3025.5. They may only be disclosed to these people:
(1) A party to the proceeding and his or her attorney.
(2) A federal or state law enforcement officer, the licensing entity of a child custody evaluator, a judicial officer, court employee, or family court facilitator of the superior court of the county in which the action was filed, or an employee or agent of that facilitator, acting within the scope of his or her duties.
(3) Counsel appointed for the child pursuant to Section 3150 .
(4) Any other person upon order of the court for good cause.
Family Code 3111 (d) makes it punishable for violation. (d) If the court determines that an unwarranted disclosure of a written confidential report has been made, the court may impose a monetary sanction against the disclosing party. The sanction shall be in an amount sufficient to deter repetition of the conduct, and may include reasonable attorney’s fees, costs incurred, or both, unless the court finds that the disclosing party acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust. The court shall not impose a sanction pursuant to this subdivision that imposes an unreasonable financial burden on the party against whom the sanction is imposed. This subdivision shall become operative on January 1, 2010.
In this new case, Attorney represented the mother (Anka) in two (2) divorce cases: the first against her first husband Yeager, and the second husband Anka. In the second case, her ex-husband in the first case testified against her. In his deposition, attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer asked Yeager questions about his deposition in HIS custody case. Yeager’s attorney shut it down and moved for sanctions against Mrs. Anka and her attorney.
In a shocking decision, the Court of Appeal reversed the sanctions against Ms. Anka (holding that she was just a trusting pawn used by her attorney, i.e., “There is nothing in the record to suggest Anna directed or even encouraged Meyer to disclose privileged information. Presumably Meyer, a seasoned trial attorney, was in charge of the proceedings. Most clients assume their attorney’s questions are proper and will not expose them to sanctions. There is no suggestion that Anna thought otherwise.”), but AFFIRMED sanctions in the amount of $50,000 against the attorney.
The Court cautioned all of us to remember our ethical duties. ” It is axiomatic that an attorney must represent a client to the best of his or her ability. The attorney owes a duty to that client to present the case with vigor in a manner as favorable to the client as the rules of law and professional ethics permit. But besides being an advocate to advance the interest of the client, the attorney is also an officer of the court. (See Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6067; Norton v. Hines (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 917, 922, 123 Cal.Rptr. 237.)
California Rules of Court, rule 9.7, pertaining to the oath required when an attorney is admitted to practice law, concludes with, ” ‘As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.’ “ These cautions are designed to remind counsel that when in the heat of a contentious trial, counsel’s zeal to protect and advance the interest of the client must be tempered by the professional and ethical constraints the legal profession demands.
Family lawyers, we have a duty – not only to the courts, our clients, but ourselves. Conduct yourselves with DIGNITY, COURTESY, and INTEGRITY. 31 Cal.App.5th 1115, B281760, In re Marriage of Yeager is posted here. Please read.