Almost 10 years ago, probate lawyer Gerald Curry was chased around a tree by gunman William Strier who was intent on killing him. At the time, Curry didn’t even know who he was. According to news accounts, Curry said he was headed to a parking garage when an older man he didn’t recognize approached him and asked his name. “And then he just shot me,” he said.
Although wounded in his neck and arm, Curry miraculously survived. Moreover, not only did he fully recover from his wounds but he was able to continue his estate planning and probate law practice — albeit with more cautiousness. This past May, Curry passed away.
According to court documents from news reports at the time, Strier had been fighting a court-appointed trustee over money Strier claimed the trustee was withholding from his injury settlement trust fund. Curry represented the trustee in the litigation. For more, also see Then & Now: Gerald Curry - CNN.
As any experienced litigator will tell you, during the course of a representation, there will be times where prudence ought to dictate thoughts about personal safety as the practice of a law can sometimes be dangerous.
Also killed was Hummels’ client Steve Singer, the opposing party and CEO of Scottsdale-based Fusion Contact Centers LLC.
Arthur Harmon’s body was found Thursday morning 10 miles from the scene dead from what police believe was a self-inflicted gunshot. Also see “Phoenix office shooting: A sudden, violent outburst; a day of fear.”
And also on Thursday morning but 1100 miles away in Kaufman, Texas, assistant district attorney Mark Hasse, was shot multiple times and killed in the parking lot of the Kaufman County Courthouse. Police are searching for two suspects.
Litigators know that emotions can run high during often contentious dealings between parties. Things can get bad — even hazardous and sometimes perilous and not only in family law cases. Truth be known, though, along with criminal law, family law remains one of the more dangerous practice areas.
In 2011, for example, and tragically — on the same day he had planned to retire, 62-year old Yuma, Arizona criminal defense and family law attorney Jerrold “Jerry” Shelley lost his life in his own office at the hands of a client’s ex-husband. Police said Shelley’s killer was also responsible for five other fatal shootings in and around the city the same day.
Ethical rule exception.
In the face of such dangers, lawyer ethical rules carve out exceptions to the well-established strict lawyer-mandate that requires lawyers to preserve client confidences until death.
Under ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6: Confidentiality of Information, disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b), which states. “A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: (1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.”
Rule 1.6 Comment  explains the underlying rationale for Rule 1.6(b)(1) and that is, it “Paragraph (b)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and permits disclosure reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Such harm is reasonably certain to occur if it will be suffered imminently or if there is a present and substantial threat that a person will suffer such harm at a later date if the lawyer fails to take action necessary to eliminate the threat.”
Arizona differs materially from the ABA Model Rule, going a couple of important steps further, Comment  to AZ-ER 1.6(b) states “the reasonably foreseen death need not be “imminent,” as required by ABA Model Rule 1.6(b)(1). Subject to the caveats for disclosure set out by AZ-ER 1.6(b), disclosure by the lawyer of otherwise protected information is mandatory, rather than discretionary as under ABA Model Rule 1.6(b)(1).
Sadly, one can only now wonder whether or not it might have made a difference if suspected shooter Arthur Harmon had not been self-represented. What if he’d had a lawyer to represent him?
Could a lawyer have contained a high conflict client? Or at least — foreseen the possibility of a substantial threat and alerted authorities “to take action necessary to eliminate the threat”?
Photo Credits: “White Lily,” by Wylie-Young at Flickr, via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution; “Bite the Bullet,” by Richard Elzey at Flickr, via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution.