Psych Season Finale & An Attorney's Duty of Loyalty

I love Psych. It speaks to my 1980s inner geek.

The season finale of Psych highlighted an attorney’s duty of loyalty to his client. If you have not seen the episode, there are spoilers ahead.

pinnappleHere is the basic overview of the attorney’s actions: 1) Conspiracy to Steal from Client; 2) Murder; 3) Faked own Death for Alibi; 4) Tried Escaping to Rio (not to mention taking the name of Duran Duran in vain).

A California’s attorney duties are defined, in relevant part, as follows:

 (a) To support the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.

 (b) To maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.

 (c) To counsel or maintain those actions, proceedings, or defenses only as appear to him or her legal or just, except the defense of a person charged with a public offense.

 (d) To employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him or her those means only as are consistent with truth, and never to seek to mislead the judge or any judicial officer by an artifice or false statement of fact or law.

 (e)

   (1) To maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client.

Cal Bus & Prof Code § 6068.

SafeDepositBoxBesides the obvious crimes of murder, the attorney committed the following ethical violations:

1) Breached his duty of loyalty to his client by entering a conspiracy to steal from her;

2) Breached his duty to protect his client’s confidences, namely, what was in her safety deposit box; and

3) Allowed third-parties in the conspiracy to have access to her client files.

The California State Bar would outright disbar the fictional attorney for his actions (in addition to the criminal charges). In one disbarment case involving the misappropriation and theft of funds, the Court found the following:

Petitioner’s misappropriation of client funds alone constitutes a serious ethical and moral violation, breaches the high duty of loyalty that attorneys owe their clients, and puts in peril the public confidence in the practice of law. This court has long held that, absent compelling mitigating circumstances, misappropriation of client trust funds by an attorney warrants disbarment.

The Standards for Attorney Sanctions for Professional Misconduct (Rules Proc. of State Bar, div. V, hereafter Standards; all further references to standards are to this source) similarly suggest that the willful misappropriation of entrusted client funds should result in disbarment unless the funds are insignificantly small or the most compelling mitigating circumstances clearly predominate.

B. Criminal Convictions.

Not only did petitioner steal from clients, his dishonesty in his personal life resulted in several convictions for crimes of moral turpitude.

Under sections 6101 and 6102 of the Business and Professions Code, disbarments, and not suspensions, have been the rule rather than the exception in cases of serious crimes involving moral turpitude, the purpose of the statutes being to protect the public, as well as the courts and the legal profession. The crimes of which petitioner was convicted (three counts of grand theft and three counts of forgery) are serious crimes and warrant disbarment. As stated by this court in In re Smith (1967) 67 Cal.2d 460, 462 [62 Cal. Rptr. 615, 432 P.2d 231], the crime of “grand theft . . . [has] been recognized to involve heinous misconduct for an attorney, and in In re Urias [1966] 65 Cal.2d 258, 262, fn. 5 [53 Cal. Rptr. 881, 418 P.2d 849] . . . we noted that the vast majority of grand theft convictions of attorneys since that date [1955] have resulted in disbarment or resignation with prejudice.'” (67 Cal.2d 460, 462-463.)

Stanley v. State Bar, 50 Cal. 3d 555, 565-566 (Cal. 1990).

It does not take a psychic to foresee why attorneys who commit crimes are subject to disbarment: attorneys are entrusted with upholding the law and protecting the rights of their clients. One who willfully engages in capital crimes such as murder and high crimes such as grand theft, need to have their Bar cards publicly shredded.

With all of that said, watching Shawn and Gus meeting a State Bar Attorney would not be as entertaining as eating a snow cone in a high speed chase.

In case any of the writers or producers read this post, Jessica and I are available for creative consulting on any shows involving lawyers. I’ll also teach bow tie lessons.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.