12/10/09: Desa Ballard

Earlier I mentioned that I attended and spoke at the Lexington County Bar’s Annual Conference last Thursday. Among the presenters were The Honorable James O. Spence, Master-in-Equity; Desa Ballard, Private Attorney; The Honorable Richard C. Collins, Magistrate;  The Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom, Probate Court; and me.

In a previous post were notes I made from Judge Spence’s presentation. This post will cover notes from Desa Ballard’s presentation.

Now, if you’re an attorney practicing in South Carolina, you’ve probably heard of Desa – via the Advance Sheets. A quick Google search turns up a good many instances in which Desa is counsel in Attorney Discipline cases. Often when Desa speaks, people listen. She offers good advice and ethical guidance.

After Judge Spence offered his words of wisdom, Desa referenced that when working with SRLs, we need only reference familiar material – the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum – specifically PLAY FAIR.

Of particular note, she mentioned that most of her discipline cases begin with a notion of fairness or lack thereof. In most instances, the aggrieved party alleges that they were not treated FAIRLY. And, if the attorney has no objective witness (i.e. court reporter) to substantiate what was said, the case becomes very complicated very quickly.

Desa noted that there are two standards for SRLs – criminal and civil. In criminal courts, there is an absolute right to represent oneself. In some instances, courts will appoint “stand-by” counsel. She noted that these appointments should not be entered into lightly. Point of reference – a 2007 ABA Advisory Opinion directly on point. The attorney owes a duty to the system, with very limited obligations to the “client.” In fact, the attorney is expressly prohibited from interfering with the SRL’s decisions of how to represent himself.

She referenced Rules 4.2 and 4.3; noting that attorneys should refer back to them to make sure we understand our role. Rule 4.2 is especially important when attorneys are representing ourselves or our friends. Rule 4.3 helps us clarify our role when we are representing our clients against self-represented litigants.

When Desa mentioned “ghostwriting,” a popular topic recently, she emphasized that we, the attorneys, are the ones who are supposed to be objective AND professional. Additionally, we can and should refer back to rules to ensure that we are acting appropriately within our ethical guidelines. After all, as attorneys, we are bound by ethics!

-RFW

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