Lawyer Suspended for Violating Client Confidentiality

By: Gary E. Rosenberg

Matter of Michael Caliguiri Appellate Division, First Dept. Admitted to Bar: 1980. Discipline imposed: One year suspension from practicing law.

From 1984 until 2003 Caliguiri was employed by Garbarini & Scher, a law firm that mostly represented doctors and hospitals that were sued for medical malpractice. Caliguiri became the firm's managing partner in 1999. Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Co. (MLMIC), a very large insurer of doctors, was one of the firm's biggest clients.

In light of Caliguiri's expertise, a neighbor of Caliguiri's asked him to answer medical malpractice questions from one of his partners, for which no money changed hands. Caliguiri knew that the defendant doctor being sued by the neighbor's law firm was insured by MLMIC.

Caliguiri's wife worked for MLMIC and secretly copied MLIC's confidential file on the neighbor's law firm's case and gave it to Caliguiri.

Both Caliguiri and his wife testified that she did this without Caligiuri ever asking her to do so. Caliguiri had looked at the file, which confirmed his opinion that MLMIC would not voluntarily settle the case because it felt it could successfully defend it.

The neighbor's law firm disclosed Caliguiri's participation to MLMIC and the medical malpractice case was settled.

At the end of 2005 Caliguiri left Garbarini & Scher over "philosophical differences." One month later his wife was fired by MLMIC.

Caliguiri says: The opinion he gave about the way the case would proceed was the same before he read the documents as after. In other words, he did not formulate his advice based on something he learned from the file.

The Appellate Division found: that while it believed that Caliguiri never requested the copy of MLMIC's file and his wife copied it on her own, he should never have even looked at it.

Despite the fact that Caliguiri made no money (there was no personal gain at all) the Appellate Division held that his conduct violated the attorney-client privilege, and that he should have kept secret his client's confidential information, even though his law firm was not even representing the client for that particular case.

Commentary: The Court actually toyed with imposing a longer suspension, but found that in addition to not gaining financially from his misconduct, Caliguiri showed "profound remorse" and had suffered devastating financial and personal consequences. It also helped that he had a clean disciplinary record, this being his first infraction in an otherwise clean 25-year legal career.

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