CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY MISCONDUCT LAW

California Divorce Lawyer and Family Law Attorney Misconduct and Ethics


California Business and Professions Code § 6106
Sacramento Family Court Report often receives emails from readers and court users asking for help with allegedly unethical attorneys who, for example, tell lies in court or in court filings. 

As a nonprofit news organization, we do not provide legal advice or assistance with making complaints against attorneys or judges. 

Click here for the State Bar of California webpage about making a complaint against an attorney. Click here for the State Bar attorney ethics information webpage.

The State Bar also provides the public an exhaustive, 456-page directory of decisional law and other references addressing virtually every type of unethical attorney conduct. The directory is called the California Compendium on Professional Responsibility [pdf]. To download the Compendium, click here [pdf]. For the State Bar Compendium webpage, click here. SFCR often uses the compendium as a resource in reporting on allegations of attorney misconduct. Other references we rely on are described in this post from 2011. Click here.

This page provides news you can use about California laws that apply to attorneys in the common family court situations we report on. If you have a news tip about an unethical family law attorney, please contact us using our Contact Family Court News page, or click here to send us an email. Before contacting us with a news tip about attorney misconduct, please review the information below.


Divorce Lawyer and Family Law Attorney Rules of Professional Conduct, State Ethics Laws



When attorneys appear in court, under California law they are required to tell the complete truth whether or not they are under oath, according to the State Bar. Under California law, telling only part of the truth is considered the same as telling a lie, and withholding or concealing relevant information during a court hearing is the same as telling a lie

A"misleading silence" is not distinguishable from a false statement, according to the State Bar, and this principle dates back to at least 1929. All these forms of deception are considered fraud upon the court, or fraud on the court. "False statement of fact," "explicit false statement" or "affirmative misrepresentation" are the legal, technical terms for what the general public refers to as a lie.

When attorneys file papers in court, under California law they are required to tell the complete truth whether or not the paperwork is filed under penalty of perjury. Under California law, telling only part of the truth in any court filing by an attorney is the same as telling a lie, and withholding, concealing, or omitting relevant information in court filings is the same as telling a lie. And is considered fraud on the court, according to the State Bar.


As "officers of the court," lawyers must disclose in court filings and in argument before a judge the facts, law and other authorities harmful or adverse to their position, in addition to the facts, law and authority supporting their position. The failure to disclose adverse facts and authority is unlawful, unethical, and considered sanctionable misconduct, according to the State Bar.

As members of the State Bar and officers of the court, attorneys are required to be honest at all times, even when off-duty and not acting as a lawyer. Dishonesty, whether or not committed while acting as an attorney, is considered an act of moral turpitude and is prohibited by Business and Professions Code § 6106, according to the State Bar.

It is illegal for a lawyer to mislead or make misrepresentations to an opposing attorney or party, including a self-represented litigant. Making offensive references or descriptions about an opposing party or attorney also is unlawful, according to the State Bar. Business and Professions Code § 6128 criminalizes deceit by an attorney intended to deceive a judge or any party.

Moral Turpitude: Deceit, Dishonesty, Half-Truths 


California Business and Professions Code § 6128
Under California law, most forms of deceit and dishonesty by an attorney are considered acts of moral turpitude, according to the State Bar. 

Under Business & Professions Code § 6106, the commission of any act of moral turpitude constitutes cause for disbarment or suspension from the practice of law. Click here to view this code section. 

Moral turpitude is defined by decisions of the California Supreme Court, decisions of the State Bar Court, and other authority. 

There are more than 100 types of lawyer misconduct that are considered acts of moral turpitude, according to the State Bar. Click here for a State Bar list of attorney actions that constitute moral turpitude. 

An instructive summary of what moral turpitude includes is provided by the State Bar Court decision, In the Matter of Maloney and Virsik:
"[The attorneys] committed acts of moral turpitude in wilful violation of section 6106 by knowingly making repeated misrepresentations to the Superior Court. It is well established that acts of moral turpitude include an attorney's false or misleading statements to a court or tribunal...The actual intent to deceive is not necessary...Acts of moral turpitude include concealment as well as affirmative misrepresentations...
[N]o distinction can be drawn among concealment, half-truth, and false statement of fact...Also, it is not necessary that [the attorneys] actually succeeded in perpetrating a fraud on the court...These [court] pleadings were permeated with half-truths, omissions, and outright misstatements of fact and law. The Supreme Court has denounced such misleading conduct and has not hesitated to impose discipline in such cases."
Click here to view this portion of the decision. Click here to view the complete Maloney and Virsik decision. Other moral turpitude references and authorities are provided at the bottom of this post.


Under state law, it is mandatory that a judge take action when an attorney commits misconduct. A judge's duty to take corrective action is not discretionary. Canon 3D(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics - the ethical rules for judges - requires all judges to take appropriate corrective action when a lawyer violates professional standards. Click here to view Canon 3D(2).

Under its inherent power, the California Supreme Court has the authority to discipline attorneys for misconduct not covered by statutes, the Rules of Professional Conduct, or other authority. Click here.

   

Divorce Lawyer and Family Law Attorney Ethics Laws and Authorities in California



Whether they are under oath or not, attorneys are required by state law to tell the truth in court:
  • Mosesian v. State Bar (1972) 8 Cal.3d 60, 66. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Maloney and Virsik (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 774. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Chestnut (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 166, 174. Click here.
  • Vapnek et al., Cal. Practice Guide: Professional Responsibility (The Rutter Group) ¶ 8:278-279. Click here
  • Witkin California Procedure 5th Edition, § 495. Click here.
  • Business & Professions Code § 6068(d). Click here

For a one-page list of similar and related authorities from the State Bar California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, click here.

A half-truth is identical to a lie, according to state law and attorney ethics standards:
  • In the Matter of Chestnut (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 166, 174. Click here.
  • Grove v. State Bar (1965) 63 Cal.2d 312, 315. Click here
  • Franklin v. State Bar (1986) 41 Cal.3d 700, 709. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Maloney and Virsik (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 774. Click here.
  • Cal. Compendium on Prof. Responsibility, 2013, p. 343
  • Business & Professions Code § 6068(d). Click here
For a one-page list of similar and related authorities from the State Bar California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, click here.

Withholding or concealing material facts or information from a judge during a court hearing or in papers filed with the court is the same as telling a lie, and constitutes fraud upon the court:

  • Sullins v. State Bar (1975) 15 Cal.3d 609. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Chestnut (Review Dept. 2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 166, 174. Click here.
  • Di Sabatino v. State Bar (1980) 27 Cal.3d 159, 162. Click here.
  • Grove v. State Bar (1965) 63 Cal.2d 312, 315. Click here.
  • Davidson v. State Bar (1976) 17 Cal.3d 570, 573. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Downey (2009) 5 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 151. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Maloney and Virsik (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 774. Click here.
  • In re Lincoln (1929) 102 Cal.App. 733, 741. Click here.
  • Cal. Compendium on Prof. Responsibility, 2013, pp. 58, 343, 425, 426
  • Business & Professions Code § 6068(d). Click here
For a one-page list of similar and related authorities from the State Bar California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, click here.

Even where the attorney did not intend to deceive the court, and even where no harm results from an attorney deceiving a judge at a court hearing or in papers filed in court, it is unlawful for an attorney to deceive a court:

  • In the Matter of Chestnut (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 166, 174. Click here.
  • Codiga v. State Bar (1978) 20 Cal.2d 788, 709. Click here.
  • Giovanazzi v. State Bar (1980) 28 Cal.3d 465. Click here.
  • In the Matter of Maloney and Virsik (2000) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 774. Click here.
  • Business & Professions Code § 6068(d). Click here.
  • Cal. Compendium on Prof. Responsibility, 2013, pp. 420, 422, 425
For a one-page list of similar and related authorities from the State Bar California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, click here.

Even where an attorney unintentionally misleads a court, it is still an unlawful misrepresentation, and the attorney must immediately inform the court of the error and request that it set aside any orders based on the misrepresentation:
For a one-page list of similar and related authorities from the State Bar California Compendium on Professional Responsibility, click here

Moral Turpitude Acts Catalog


There are more than 100 different actions an attorney can take that under state law are considered acts of moral turpitude. The State Bar of California publishes a list of attorney acts and actions that constitute moral turpitude. Click here to view the list. 

Decisions of the California Supreme Court in attorney misconduct cases also provide examples of moral turpitude. Click here. The State Bar Compendium on Professional Responsibility also provides a list of over 20 case law decisions which contain definitions of moral turpitude. Click here. California Practice Guide: Professional Responsibility published by The Rutter Group includes a section with examples and analysis of moral turpitude. Click here.

According to many unrepresented family court litigants, opposing attorneys often withhold, and do not disclose to judges important, but negative information about their clients. Under California law, an attorney who conceals adverse and material facts is guilty of moral turpitude. Click here.

The State Bar moral turpitude list includes the following subjects:

  • Advancing untrue facts prejudicial to the opposing party. 
  • Concealing material information. 
  • Conspiracy to obstruct justice.
  • Duty not to mislead court. 
  • Acts of deception. 
  • Defamation. 
  • Dishonesty. 
  • Destruction of documents. 
  • Omission of material facts from documents. 
  • Encouraging litigation for a corrupt motive. 
  • Filing false documents. 
  • Filing false pleadings or statements.  
  • Fraud. 
  • Misrepresentation and concealment of adverse and material facts.
  • Honesty required in the practice of law. 
  • Misleading the court. 
  • Misrepresentations to opposing counsel or pro per. 
  • Mistake of Law. 
  • Offensive or disrespectful acts. 
  • Misleading opposing counsel or pro per. 
  • Overreaching. 
  • Perjury. 
  • Practicing deceit.

For Sacramento Family Court News coverage of attorney misconduct issues, click here.

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