Appellate Court Affirms $50,000 in Sanctions Against Attorney for Disclosure of Confidential Child Custody Evaluation

IRMO ANKA  (Citation Pending) 2d Civil No. B281760

Our office at one point had the displeasure of being involved in this very dispute.

Lisa Helfend Meyer objected to and appealed the trial court’s issuance of $50,000 in sanctions against the attorney personally, also extending the liability to her client.  The sanction was due to the fact that Ms. Meyer allegedly disclosed confidential information from a child custody evaluation in her direct examination of a party in a separate court case.  Family Code Sections 3025.5 and 3111 describe the confidentiality of such information and the ability of the Court to sanction Parties for willful disclosure.  However, these statues have never been applied at the Courts of Appeal, making this case a case of first impression.  The Court of appeal affirmed the sanctions against Lisa Helfend Meyer, but reversed as to her client stating, “Most clients assume their attorney’s questions are proper and will not expose them to sanctions. There is no suggestion that Anna thought otherwise.”

The opinion is well written and starts by stating, “California Rules of Court, rule 9.7, pertaining to the oath
required when an attorney is admitted to practice law, concludes with, “’As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.’ ”1 These cautions are designed to remind counsel that when in the heat of a contentious trial, counsel’s zeal to protect and advance the interest of the client must be tempered by the professional and ethical constraints the legal profession demands. Unfortunately, that did not happen here.”

Some attorneys take the “scorched Earth” approach to family law, completely ignoring many ethical and professional constraints.  Perhaps this decision will swing the pendulum back to some extent.  The decision is available here.

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