An Oregon attorney was rightfully sanctioned for posting responses to negative online client reviews that named the client and disclosed his criminal history, but he should only be publicly reprimanded instead of temporarily suspended from practice, the state’s top court said Thursday.
Brian Conry was hired by a client facing deportation because of convictions for second-degree burglary and second-degree theft. After about five years the client was ordered deported. He took his case to a different law firm, which accused Conry of ineffective assistance of counsel for wrongly conceding that the client’s offenses were crimes of moral turpitude. The federal government ultimately ceased the deportation proceedings.
The client posted negative reviews of Conry on Yelp, Google, and Avvo, blaming him for the deportation order. Conry posted defensive responses to the reviews, which revealed the client’s specific criminal convictions, and in one review included the client’s full name.
The state bar charged Conry with revealing information relating to the representation of a client without his permission. A trial panel of the Disciplinary Board agreed, and determined Conry should be suspended 30 days.
Conry violated the rules of professional conduct, but his punishment will be reduced to a public reprimand, the Oregon Supreme Court said.
Although it’s a close question, Conry’s disclosure of the client’s criminal convictions alone would have been “within the boundary of information that he reasonably believed was necessary to respond to the review,” the court said. In the reviews the client “had asserted that he was not deportable with the charges against him. That raised the issue whether those charges, in fact, made client deportable,” the court said.
But including the client’s full name in one of the reviews “changes the matter substantially,” the court said. “By posting client’s name together with the details of client’s criminal history, respondent revealed client’s identity and his convictions, not just to those persons who sought out these particular reviews” but to anyone running an Internet search on the client’s name.
In light of the difficult issues presented by the case, “one of first impression before this court,” and mitigating factors including Conry’s lack of disciplinary history and cooperation with the proceedings, a suspension would be too harsh, the court said.
Holland & Knight LLP represents Conry.
The case is In re Conry, Or., No. SC S067502, 7/15/21.