Business as Usual: Lawyer Lies Kill and the Bar Excuses them

From the Wall Street Journal today, where thousands of faulty ignition switches failed and GM lawyers did not inform the public or authorities of this dangerous product in a dangerous condition:

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/michigan-won-t-discipline-lawyers-in-gm-ignition-case-1459080002-lMyQjAxMTE2NDI5ODEyMzgxWj

Jay Gass, a Tennessee retiree, asked Michigan’s Attorney Grievance Commission to launch the probes and suggested the former employees be stripped of their state law licenses, the documents show. Mr. Gass’s 27-year-old daughter died in 2014 in a car with the faulty switch after GM failed for more than a decade to recall vehicles with the safety defect, now linked to 124 deaths.

The back-and-forth is part of the fallout from GM’s ignition-switch crisis that continues to reverberate, even after the Detroit auto maker reached settlements with the U.S. Justice Department, shareholders and thousands of consumers totaling more than $2 billion. Jurors will deliberate as soon as this week in an ignition-switch trial under way in a New York federal court, and GM faces other probes two years after recalling roughly 2.6 million older vehicles with the defective part.

GM’s safety crisis sparked debate over lawyers’ obligations to sound alarms on the defective switches, which can slip from the run position and disable safety features including air bags. Some GM lawyers reviewed and settled cases involving the switch that didn’t reach senior executives’ desks for years, according to a company-commissioned report by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas.

Deciding to Settle

GM lawyers and other employees for years reviewed numerous fatal car-accident cases linked to a defective ignition switch and air bags that failed to deploy.

  • GM paid a $900 million penalty in September to settle a Justice Department criminal investigation and admitted to misleading regulators and consumers about the switch.

Since when do GM lawyers get to lie to government authorities about the quality of their products?  When did this change in the law occur.  Of course, lawyers can make reasonable statements zealously to aide their clients, but if you look at the Model Code of Professional Conduct, where is it written that lawyers can lie to the authorities, especially when it results in thousands of dangerous car crashes and at least 124 reported deaths?

From the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility:

ARTICLE VIII.  ILLINOIS RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF 2010

 

 

PREAMBLE: A LAWYER’S RESPONSIBILITIES

 

[1] A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
[2] As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications. As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealings with others. As an evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client’s legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.
[3] In addition to these representational functions, a lawyer may serve as a third-party neutral, a nonrepresentational role helping the parties to resolve a dispute or other matter. Some of these Rules apply directly to lawyers who are or have served as third-party neutrals. See, e.g., Rules 1.12 and 2.4. In addition, there are Rules that apply to lawyers who are not active in the practice of law or to practicing lawyers even when they are acting in a nonprofessional capacity. For example, a lawyer who commits fraud in the conduct of a business is subject to discipline for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. See Rule 8.4.
[4] In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. A lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
[5] A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process.
[6] As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.
*** probono service to others ***
[7] Many of a lawyer’s professional responsibilities are prescribed in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as substantive and procedural law. However, a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service.
[8] A lawyer’s responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and at the same time assume that justice is being done. So also, a lawyer can be sure that preserving client confidences ordinarily serves the public interest because people are more likely to seek legal advice, and thereby heed their legal obligations, when they know their communications will be private.
[9] In the nature of law practice, however, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.
[10] The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.
[11] To the extent that lawyers meet the obligations of their professional calling, the occasion for government regulation is obviated. Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession’s independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice.
[12] The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.
[13] Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.

 

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