The legal and other professional groups are guided by rules of professional conduct. Many states
have modeled their rules of professional conduct for the legal profession after those adopted by the American Bar Association. The rules of conduct govern not only attorneys, but also judges on the state level. There is also a Code of Conduct for United States Judges, but as reported in a recent article in USA Today, Supreme Court justices are not legally bound to follow it.
The Supreme court of Ohio, like many other states' highest level courts, is vested through the State Constitution with the ultimate authority to regulate the legal profession within the state. The profession is therefore, self regulating. As a self regulating profession, it maintains independence from governmental, or political domination. Legal profession members are not dependent on government for the right to practice or subject to governmental scrutiny. When any of the rules and responsibilities imposed by the Code of Professional Conduct are found to have been violated, an attorney or judge may be penalized by suspension or disbarment through disciplinary action established by the profession.
Among the many standards of professional conduct established by codes is the obligation of an attorney to provided competent, zealous representation. An attorney must demonstrate legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation. Communications between attorneys and clients are to remain confidential. Fees charged are to be reasonable. Attorneys must act with reasonable diligence and promptness. Conflicts of interest must be avoided.
In addition to an attorneys' obligations to clients, attorneys are also responsible to the courts, opposing parties and counsel. Specifically, an attorney may not “alter, destroy, or conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value.”
In a recent Virginia case, an attorney was successful in obtaining a $8,577,000 jury award in a wrongful death suit. He represented the husband and parents of a women who had been killed in an auto accident. In preparing the case for trial he instructed his paralegal to advise the husband to delete photos from his Facebook page that the attorney believed would be harmful to the case. This was done after defense counsel had requested the postings from the attorney as part of discovery. In upholding the jury verdict, a reviewing court noted that defense counsel was aware of the deletions before trial and the trial judge took steps to mitigate the effect of the withholding of evidence. The attorney, however did not escape disciplinary penalties. His license was suspended for a significant period of time.
Clients should always be mindful of what they post on Facebook and other social media sites. Attorneys should never, directly or indirectly, instruct a client involved in litigation to purge prior postings.