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Barrett v. Virginia State Bar

Supreme Court of Virginia
611 S.E.2d 375 (Va. 2005)


Facts

Timothy Barrett and Valerie Rhudy were married with children. The couple separated. Barrett was a lawyer admitted to practice in Virginia. Before Rhudy was represented by counsel in the divorce, Barrett sent numerous emails to her. Several of the emails stated that Barrett still loved Rhudy and asked Rhudy to return to the marital home. Two emails, however, referenced the couple’s imminent divorce proceeding. The first of these emails stated that, under Virginia law, Barrett would not have to pay spousal support but rather would be awarded custody of the children, and Rhudy would have to pay spousal support. The second email stated that Rhudy had no case against Barrett and that Barrett would obtain a fault-based divorce against Rhudy. The second email also stated that Rhudy’s legal costs would likely exceed $30,000. The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board (Board) (defendant) found that Barrett’s emails violated Rule 4.3(b) of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 4.3(b) prohibited a lawyer from giving legal advice to an unrepresented individual if the individual’s interests were likely to be in conflict with the interests of the lawyer’s client. The Board issued an order suspending Barrett’s law license for three years. Barrett appealed, arguing that Rule 4.3 was not intended to prohibit communication between a husband and a wife.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Agee, J.)

Dissent (Keenan, J.)

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