The Supreme Court of Virginia has reversed a disciplinary finding against a lawyer who fielded a 60-second phone call from the opposing party in a medical-malpractice case.
Fairfax lawyer Heather Ellison Zaug took a phone call from a plaintiff, who initially said that a deposition in the case needed to be stopped. As Zaug talked to the woman, she realized it was the opposing party, according to the opinion in Zaug v. Virginia State Bar, handed down this morning. She told the woman that she could not help her and that she needed to contact her lawyer. The entire transaction took about a minute.
The opposing lawyer filed a disciplinary complaint, based on the rule that prohibits contact with a represented party. A district committee heard the complaint and rendered the latest possible disciplinary finding – a dismissal de minimus. Zaug appealed to a three-judge panel that upheld that discipline.
The Supreme Court reversed, finding on the “specific and narrow facts” of the case, that no violation of the rule occurred.
Justice William C. Mims noted that lawyers swear an oath to act “professionally and courteously.”
He added, “The Rule does not require attorneys to be discourteous or impolite” when they disengage from an unsolicited conversation such as this one.
– Paul Fletcher