Duty of Truthfulness

Duty of Truthfulness/Disciplinary Responsibilities


Thread Part 1: A young lawyer is representing a client who is charged with writing a series of threatening messages to various schools in the local area threatening to place bombs in the building. The lawyer’s client was accused of writing these messages on his computer and then e-mailing them to the principals of each school building. The client was turned in by his wife, who knew the client’s computer password and had access to the home in which the computer was located.


The lawyer learned that it was the client’s wife who offered to show the investigating police officer the location of the threatening messages. The lawyer also learned that the client and his wife are in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody dispute over their three children. The client has no criminal history and the lawyer suspects (but does not have proof) that the wife, rather than the client, accessed and placed the threatening messages on the client’s computer and then e-mailed them to the schools. The lawyer wants to inspect the wife’s home computer for similar messages, which would help exculpate the client by suggesting that the wife, rather than the client, was responsible for the threatening messages. However, the client is afraid that if he asks openly to do so, the wife will destroy any evidence on her computer.


The lawyer’s client is facing a lengthy prison term and numerous felony convictions. Without the evidence that he suspects is on the wife’s computer, the lawyer believes that the client will likely be found guilty at trial.


The lawyer comes to you for advice. He has hatched a plan to obtain the evidence on the computer. He would like to hire a private investigator to gain access to wife’s computer through a clever ruse. The private investigator would pose as a university professor conducting research into the computer use of families in the area. He would contact the wife and offer her a spot in a “research study” which would involve the swapping of her computer for a new laptop computer that would purportedly allow the “professor” to monitor complainant’s computer use. The lawyer then plans to have the computer analyzed for the exculpatory evidence.


Is the lawyer’s plan ethical?

What advice do you give him?

Would your answer change from the perspective of a biblical worldview?

If the lawyer moves forward with the plan, do you have the duty to report his conduct to disciplinary authorities?

Do you do so?