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In re Boelter
Washington Supreme Court
985 P.2d 328 (1999)
During an initial conference with attorney Arthur Boelter (defendant), Robert Withey disclosed confidential information from which Boelter inferred that Withey had concealed assets from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a bank. After the representation ended, Withey owed Boelter’s firm a fee balance. Boelter told Withey in a letter that his firm would sue if the fees were not paid within a week and that if a suit had to be filed, Boelter would be forced to reveal that Withey had lied to the IRS and disclose tape-recorded conversations about Withey’s hidden assets. Boelter added that the punishment for perjury was up to one year in jail. Boelter also sent Withey a memo stating that the firm was preparing to sue and suggesting Withey liquidate one of his undisclosed works of art. Boelter and Withey agreed on a payment schedule, but Withey made only one payment. Boelter’s firm sued Withey. Withey’s attorney indicated that Boelter would be paid upon return of the tape recordings of Boelter’s conference with Withey. Boelter provided an affidavit stating that the tapes had been erased. Withey complained to the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA). The WSBA Disciplinary Board (board) found that Boelter had engaged in misconduct by, among other actions, threatening to reveal Withey’s confidences to resolve the fee dispute. On appeal, Boelter argued that he had assumed Withey would raise inability to pay as a defense and the ethical rules permitted a lawyer to reveal client confidences to establish a claim in a fee dispute.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Alexander, J.)
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