Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lawyer Snitches on Clients to Save Self

“There is no place horrific enough in the bowels of hell for the soul of a lawyer who would flip on his clients to save his sorry criminal butt. Then again, as he’s already made the choice to sell his soul for a pile of cash, he’s lost any hope of integrity and the step to being a rat is a small one in comparison.”

-New York criminal defense lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield

Clients sometimes think that they want a lawyer who will act unethically for them, but they don’t: first, because a defense based on lies is almost always doomed to fail; and second, because clients need lawyers they can trust. Unethical lawyers are . . . unethical. A lawyer who behaves dishonestly “for his clients” can reasonably be expected to behave dishonestly toward his clients.

- Houston criminal defense lawyer and blogger Mark Bennet

The Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that an Ohio lawyer who once represented drug defendants went undercover in order to assist law enforcement make arrests of over two dozen individuals, including his former clients. This is reprehensible, but first some facts.

Frank Pignatelli was facing a possible indictment as a co-conspirator when he agreed to work with authorities in the drug sting. The story suggests that prosecutors discovered that Pignatelli was helping his clients buy “stash houses” to store drugs and money. To get out from under his own troubles, he turned on former clients he could help set up. And all I can say, is ‘No Way.’ How was this allowed? How was this tolerated?

One of Pignatelli’s former clients, just last week, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy and money laundering, the story says. Robinson's lawyer, James Campbell, told the Beacon Journal that Pignatelli’s decision to work and testify against former clients ''still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

Bad taste? The man is being polite. The wrong guy is in jail. It is repulsive and virtually violates every principle a defense attorney is supposed to protect. For someone entrusted with the sanctity of a client’s communication to reveal the information elicited therein is to strike at the soul of a constitutional safeguard.
Prosecutors undoubtedly see this differently. Analyzing this case, they clearly concluded that this prosecution sends a message to lawyers that if they assist or counsel in the commission of a crime then that information may be deemed as outside the scope of attorney-client privilege.

How much time did Mr. Pignatelli get you ask? There is the rub. He is doing fine. He has a new job in Denver, unbelievably, as a criminal defense lawyer. I am sure everyone is rushing to hire him. I do not expect the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to give him the Harry Gulkin Award next month. I can just guess what kind of award Michael Corleone might have given him.

1 comment:

  1. Who is worse, the lawyer that snitched, or the lawyers that didn't challenge the arrest of his former clients?

    Why on earth would you not challenge an arrest like that?