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Lawyer's Disciplinary Record Haunts Her Six Years Later

Two months ago, I posted about Shakespear Feyissa, a Washington state attorney whose past (a never prosecuted charge for sexual assault) has come back to haunt him courtesy of online issues of the school newspaper that reported the incident and remain accessible on search engines. Feyissa's situation is bad, but it could be worse: What if an old disciplinary charge remained online for all the world to find?

That's the situation in which Greenwich attorney Barbara Shea finds herself, according to a recent article from The Connecticut Law Tribune. (H/T to Susan Cartier Liebel at Build a Solo Practice.) Shea, an elder law attorney who also handles divorces, was the subject of several disciplinary actions between 1997 and 2002 and received three reprimands and a four-month suspension. Shea has served her time, but the records remain available online and continue to damage her business. Now, Shea is fighting back; she's filed a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee alleging violations of free speech rights, invasion of privacy, unfair trade practices and tortious interference with contract.

On the one hand, the public has the right to learn about a lawyer's past disciplinary record. At the same time, with the advent of the Internet and powerful search engines, does continued posting of disciplinary matters after long periods of time unfairly prejudice lawyers who made past mistakes? Question: Should there be a date stamp on the amount of time that a disciplinary committee can retain decisions online and publicly accessible in search engines? What matters more -- the public's right to know or allowing lawyers who've committed ethical violations to have another chance to redeem themselves and rebuild their practice? And are these goals mutually exclusive -- in other words, is publication of an ethics violation always a death knell for a lawyer? Post your comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 3, 2008 at 05:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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