Inside Track: Ethical dilemmas: When withdrawing is the only option:

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  • Ethical dilemmas: When withdrawing is the only option

    Nov. 16, 2011 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer's practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar's ethics coethics counsel Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.
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    I represent a client, Smith, who is accused of armed robbery. His case is set for trial, and he has consistently maintained his innocence. One day, while visiting other clients at the jail, I met with another client, Jones, who I also represent on robbery charges. Jones told me that he knew that I represented Smith and that he would be watching how I handled that case because he knew Smith was innocent. I asked how he knew that, and he told me that maybe he was the one who actually committed the burglary. Jones made it very clear that I did not have his permission to reveal this information to anyone. What do I do now?


    Withdraw without revealing what Jones said. The lawyer now has an unresolvable conflict between the duty of competence, diligence, and communication to Smith and the duty of confidentiality to Jones,

    References: SCR 20:1.1, SCR 20:1.4, SCR 20:1.6, SCR 20:1.7, SCR 20:1.9, SCR 20:1.16; Lettley v. State, 358 Md. 26, 746 A.2d 392 (2000).

    For guidance and help in resolving questions regarding Wisconsin’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.

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