Bar Counsel Notes: Non-prejudicial withdrawal from Representation

Attorney's client has just been found guilty of OUI by a jury. Sentencing has been set to occur in two weeks. The day after the verdict, the client called Attorney and made various complaints about her trial conduct and then made personal threats against her. Attorney has concluded that the client's actions have made it impossible for her to properly represent his interests at sentencing. How does Attorney properly seek court approval for her withdrawal without harming client's interests at sentencing by the same court that will handle her withdrawal request?

The Attorney should file her Motion to Withdraw very quickly so that any replacement counsel has adequate time to prepare and assist the client at sentencing. That motion should be based upon M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7(a)(2) and 1.16(b)(4)(6) or (7). The contents of that motion and/or any related affidavit she may execute, however, should be phrased using the most effective but general language and terms as she deems reasonably possible. She needs to avoid causing prejudice to the client at his sentencing. In doing so, Attorney should not reveal any of client's confidences, including his personal threats against her that could disadvantage him at that sentencing by the court.

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.