Friday, October 30, 2009

A Reporter by Any Other Name Is Not Really a Legal Assistant

And the Kansas Department of Corrections is none too pleased about it.

A Kansas lawyer denies smuggling a newspaper reporter disguised as his "legal assistant" into a state women's prison for the purpose of investigating illegal sexual relationships - although he does not deny taking the reporter with him on a visit to the prison.

But the Kansas DOC is investigating an ethics complaint alleging that "attorney Keen Umbehr misrepresented the occupation of Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter when the two entered the Topeka Correctional Facility in August to interview two inmates."

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Umbehr says he didn't have to tell prison authorities who Carpenter was, as long as he didn't misrepresent who he was (or wasn't - the finer points are starting to lose me in this story...)

(We may be talk slower and therefore appear to be less sophisticated here in the South, but my mama raised me to believe that a deliberate omission can be a subcategory of not telling the truth.)

But the bottom line is, under any of the appellations Umbehr might have used to describe Carpenter, apparently "reporter" wasn't one of them.

TCF employee Christine Brooks said in an affidavit that Umbehr called on Aug. 7 and requested an attorney-client visit with the inmates. She said the attorney identified Carpenter as his "legal assistant."

"Mr. Umbehr stated that Mr. Carpenter knew far more about each inmate's criminal case than he did, and therefore he needed his assistance in the meetings," Brooks' affidavit reads.

Kansas rules of professional conduct for attorneys state a lawyer "shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person."

Umbehr said that is exactly why he didn't lie. He said he is sure he called Carpenter his "assistant," not "legal assistant," when requesting time with the inmates and pointed to another section of the conduct rules that states a lawyer "has no affirmative duty to inform an opposing person of relevant facts."

"I felt no need to give them info which they didn't request," Umbehr said.

The Department of Corrections disagrees, because legal assistants and plain old assistants get to skip its protocol for media inquiries - created especially for reporters.

If my mama read this story, she'd make Umbehr go outside and get his own switch.

Source: Topeka Capital-Journal

Non sequitur: Right before I hit publish, I decided to make sure that "Keen" wasn't really a "Ken" and checked out his website which says he "was a trashman for seventeen years before deciding to sell his business and return to college."

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