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Lawyer gets reprimand for prosecution threats

A Leesburg lawyer has been reprimanded and placed on two years’ probation for threatening to report his litigation adversaries to government authorities.

The Virginia State Bar charged Vincent M. Amberly with repeatedly using the threat of criminal or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in civil matters.

A witness in a defamation case blew the whistle on Amberly, according to the written account from bar prosecutors.

The witness had testified at trial against Amberly’s client, a physician.

Amberly then wrote to the witness saying he believed the testimony was “clearly false.” Amberly said his client had requested that he seek “to press perjury charges” against the witness.

He invited the witness to “resolve and settle your defamation and perjury in an amicable and acceptable manner to all parties involved.”

Responding to a bar complaint from the witness, Amberly said he had used similar language “on numerous occasions with other potential adversaries.” Asked for examples, Amberly produced more than 30 other letters, the bar said.

The bar highlighted two of those letters in bringing an ethics charges against Amberly. In both letters, on behalf of franchise purchasers, he threatened franchisors with reports to the Federal Trade Commission.

Requesting a “full refund” of damages, Amberly said his clients “would agree not to contact any state or federal governmental agencies.”

Amberly’s letters violated Rule 3.4 (i) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the bar contended. The rule says a lawyer shall not “Present or threaten to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.”

Amberly agreed to a public reprimand coupled with a two-year probation period. During that time, any professional misconduct would trigger proceedings for additional discipline, according to a subcommittee determination agreed to by Amberly.