Illinois Attorney Betty Tsamis, the subject of my article Tweets of Wrath: This Attorney Didn’t Listen, has received a reprimand for violating ethical rules regarding client confidences and maintenance of her client trust account. Ms. Tsamis is most recognized for her reaction to her client’s Avvo review, which I discuss at length in the above-cited article.
The full text of the decision can be read here, but the decision is notable in that it appears to go to great lengths to avoid discussion of her violation of the rules regarding the Avvo review. In fact, the sanction itself appears to be primarily based on her violation regarding management of her trust account. None of the mitigating factors appear to directly address her conduct regarding the Avvo review, and none of the language that Ms. Tsamis consented to even mentions her conduct in responding to the review. The reprimand itself even omits the actual language of Ms. Tsamis’s response that allegedly violated attorney-client confidentiality.
Speaking to the ABA Journal, one of Ms. Tsamis’s attorneys said:
“While we believe that Ms. Tsamis’ conduct was within the [ethics rules], this matter raises an important issue for all lawyers—especially those who are active on attorney-review websites and have the opportunity to comment on client reviews posted to these types of websites.
“Lawyers should be cautious that if they choose to respond, that their response does not exceed what is necessary to respond to the review and should be mindful that they do not reveal client confidences in violation of the rule. Ms. Tsamis recognizes the importance of Rule 1.6 and the need to maintain confidential client information. Under Rule 1.6(b)(5) and consistent with Restatement of the Law (Third), The Law Governing Lawyers, § 64, it appears that a lawyer may comment to the extent that the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to defend herself against allegations made by a client.”
As part of the factual recitation of the reprimand, the hearing board did state that the information Ms. Tsamis posted concerned her representation of her former client, and “exceeded what was necessary to respond to [the former client]’s accusations.”
Considering the level of disagreement voiced by various readers of my original article, this reprimand is a bit of a disappointment. Instead of addressing the issue, the board appears to have sidestepped it entirely, issuing the reprimand based solely on the conduct Ms. Tsamis was not in a position to deny. Revealing client confidences in response to negative reviews is an important issue, and I think the board would have served itself, and the attorneys in Illinois, better by providing a clear analysis of Ms. Tsamis’s actions.