Law School Case Brief
In re Pautler - 47 P.3d 1175 (Colo. 2002)
Purposeful deception by an attorney licensed in the State of Colorado is intolerable, even when it is undertaken as a part of attempting to secure the surrender of a murder suspect.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Pautler attended the scene of a gruesome crime where three women lay murdered. Upon arrival, Pautler found that an officer from the Sheriff's department was in telephone contact with the suspect, William Neal. One condition Neal demanded was that he speak to an attorney before surrendering. After a brief, unsuccessful attempt to reach Neal's former attorney by separate phone line, Pautler offered to impersonate a public defender. Neal came to believe that Pautler was his attorney. Neal later surrendered to law enforcement without incident. Ultimately, Neal was convicted of the murders and received the death penalty. Attorney disciplinary proceedings followed with the Attorney Regulation Counsel charging Pautler with violating Colo. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(c) and 4.3. A disciplinary panel found Pautler guilty and sanctioned him to a three-month suspension. Pautler appealed from the decision of the disciplinary panel.
By impersonating a public defender in order to secure the surrender of the murder suspect, did attorney Pautler violate the Code of Professional Conduct, thereby justifying his suspension from the practice of law?
The Court noted that Rule 8.4 prohibited Pautler from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation while Rule 4.3 prohibited the attorney from implying he was disinterested when dealing on behalf of a client with a person not represented by counsel. In the case at bar, the Court held that the disciplinary panel properly sanctioned the district attorney. According to the Court, lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society. A consequent obligation of lawyers was to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct, regardless of motive. The Court averred that deceitful conduct done knowingly or intentionally would typically warrant suspension, or even disbarment; hence, the sanction imposed on Pautler was proper.
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