Lawyers Have a Duty to Tell the Truth
LAWYERS HAVE A DUTY TO “EMPLOY MEANS CONSISTENT WITH THE TRUTH.”
There are so many jokes about lawyers being dishonest that it surprises many people to learn that lawyers have a duty to tell the truth.
California Business & Professions Code Section 6068, which establishes (some) of the duties of lawyers, says that every California lawyer has a duty:
(d) To employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to him or her those means only as are consistent with truth, and never to seek to mislead the judge or any judicial officer by an artifice or false statement of fact or law.
In simpler terms, California lawyers are legally required :
- To use only truthful methods
- Not to even try to lie to a judge or other judicial officer
- Not to use “artifices” or lie about any fact or law
This is a very high standard. Let’s look at a little more of what it includes.
DUTY OF HONESTY TO COURTS
A lawyer is not allowed to knowingly do any of the following in court, or in front of any tribunal:
- Make false statements (i.e., “tell lies”)
- Offer false evidence
- Fail to disclose controlling legal authority (i.e., allow the court to be confused or misled about the controlling law)
- Fail to correct a statement that is materially false
- Fail to inform the court when a material fact or law becomes either false or misleading.
Note that some of these duties are affirmative – meaning that a lawyer cannot simply be silent if he or she knows the court is being misled. This is true whether or not the false impression cuts in the client’s favor.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE DUTY OF HONESTY CONFLICTS WITH THE DUTY TO A CLIENT?
Sometimes a lawyer’s duty to represent a client may come into conflict with the lawyer’s duty to the court, and to justice.
For example, if a lawyer learns that the client has committed perjury (lied under oath). In situations like this, the lawyer has a duty to behave reasonably under the circumstances. It’s important to note that this is not a “bright-line” rule. The law does not always tell the lawyer exactly what to do. Instead, the lawyer must use professional judgment and act as a reasonable lawyer would behave under the circumstances, in order to comply with the duty to use only measures consistent with the truth.
For example, a lawyer may have to tell a court that the ethics rules prevent the lawyer from answering a question or introducing certain evidence. Does this have implications for the client’s case? It could–which is why lawyers must be careful about the way they speak with clients, handle client matters, and interact with the courts.
Lawyers who knowingly violate this duty may be liable for fines or subject to other forms of professional discipline. If a lawyer’s misconduct causes damages to a client, the lawyer also may be liable to the client for legal malpractice (professional negligence).
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
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