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L. Rob Werner

It's The Law

Posted: October 21, 2010 9:39 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Recent stories generated by the news conference of attorney Gloria Allred seem to miss some very serious legal questions. Allred appeared on television with her client Nicky Diaz Santillan, a former housekeeper to candidate Meg Whitman. Also present at the news conference was the housekeeper’s immigration attorney.

It was revealed that Santillan provided false Social Security information to an employment agency to qualify for the job with Whitman. Some years later, the department of Social Security apparently sent a letter to the Whitmans questioning the Social Security number.

The press took off on this potential scandal without seriously examining some of the real issues. Allred revealed to the press that her client committed an illegal act.  Falsifying a Social Security number is a felony under federal law.  Because of the revelation, Allred’s client could face prison time and deportation.

California has strict ethical standards for lawyer conduct.  Revealing confidential information that can place a client in jeopardy, acting in a conflicting manner or having an actual conflict of interest with a client can result in an attorney facing disbarment proceedings. If Allred had represented the employment agency that placed the housekeeper, there could be another conflict-of-interest charge. 

If someone informed Allred of Santillan’s employment history and Allred solicited representation, this would also expose her to State Bar disciplinary proceedings. Solicitation of employment by an attorney can also be a violation of State Bar rules.  It should be noted that Allred has declined to state how she secured this client.

Allred asserts that she filed an employment claim on behalf of Santillan, claiming that the $23-per-hour housekeeper was not paid for all the hours she worked nor compensated for mileage when driving her car. 

The question of having a valid driver’s license was not raised.

One would need to consult with an employment lawyer to determine if a person, who falsifies paperwork to obtain employment — and is otherwise ineligible for employment — is entitled to all the benefits of the employment laws. 

However, it is evident that any additional compensation she may be entitled to would be far offset by the expense of defending herself on criminal charges and paying for an immigration attorney.  On the other hand, in addition to the news exposure already obtained, should Allred succeed in the employment action she could get an award of her attorney fees. 

So does this constitute a conflict of interest?

Attorneys value their license to practice law. One may not appreciate the views of Allred, but few would consider her stupid. One would expect her to protect herself. 

The odds are that prior to the news conference, a criminal attorney was consulted.  Santillan probably was required to sign a number of disclaimers protecting Allred and the other attorneys from any negative repercussions.

Still, would this be enough to protect Allred from ethics action by the State Bar or possible malpractice action by the client if and when things went bad? 

In reviewing the motives and relative sophistication of the parties, the courts could come down hard on Allred and other attorneys even if they had the client sign waivers.  So what protects Allred?

The answer is money.  The odds are that someone is paying for Allred, the immigration attorney and criminal counsel.  If that someone is the former housekeeper, then someone is paying her the money to pay the lawyer. 

In addition, someone is providing her with compensation.  It may be that Allred is really representing Santillan in obtaining financial benefits from those who are interested in promoting a scandal.

Missing from the news stories are the questions:  Who is paying the lawyers?  Who is compensating the former housekeeper? Has a violation of legal ethics occurred? Is the State Bar looking into the matter?

L. Rob Werner is a Santa Clarita attorney with the Law Offices of L. Rob Werner. He can be reached at (661) 252-9022. His column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association www.SCVbar.org.  Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

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