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Kan. Attorney Suspended for 'Emotional Blackmail' Over Facebook

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Eric Michael Gamble, a lawyer in Kansas City, Kansas, made one big mistake. While representing a biological father who wished to contest the adoption of his daughter, he sent a Facebook message to the unrepresented 18-year-old biological mother urging her to reconsider. He also attached a form that he'd prepared to revoke her consent to the adoption, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The message, which the Kansas Supreme Court called "emotional blackmail," also contained inaccurate legal advice and inaccurate factual assertions. However, Gamble self-reported his misconduct, carefully outlining all of the rules that he thought that he may have violated and expressed remorse for his conduct.

The adoption went though as planned. Gamble not only lost the case, but the court ran wild with his self-reported misconduct and imposed a six-month suspension, far more than a hearing panel's 60-day recommendation. Did he deserve that harsh of a sanction?

The Message

Here's the Facebook message at issue:

"Dear [biological mother]

I wish to offer you some reasons why you should stand up and fight for your daughter. As you know, I am the attorney for [the biological father]. We held your deposition in my office. I wanted to give you the chance to make things right. This may be your last opportunity to be a mom for [the baby]. As I told you after your deposition in my office, it is not too late. You still have a wonderful opportunity to have a real relationship with your daughter if you so choose. I have attached a document for you to consider signing and bringing to court or to my office. It is a revocation of your consent to adopt. If you sign this document there is a very good chance that you will be able to call [the baby] your own and [the baby] will call you her mom. I can't begin to explain how beautiful and wonderful parenthood is. I have a little girl myself and she is my world just like you are your dad's world. [The baby] deserves to know her parents. She deserves to know that you love her and care for her as well. Do not let this opportunity pass you by because you will live with this decision the rest of your life and [the baby] will know someday what happened. [The adoptive parents] do not legally have to ever let you see her again after court (although they are probably trying to convince you otherwise with the idea of an 'open adoption'). The reason why you don't know about the trial was because they don't want you there because that doesn't help [the adoptive parents'] case. This is your time to get rid of the guilt and standup and do what is right and what [the baby] deserves. She deserves to have her parents love and care for her. She deserves to know her grandparents and extended family. If she's adopted, she won't have that chance. [The biological father] wants to be her dad and to love her. She deserves that. I urge you to print, sign, and notarize this document and bring it to my office before court. Trial is June 27, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse, Division 15. I hope to see you and your father there."

The Mistakes

There are the common sense mistakes -- sending a message to the opposing party via Facebook was a bad place to start. Contacting an unrepresented party was also unwise. And the message was heavily emotionally manipulative.

As for the ethical issues, the court opinion notes:

  • Gamble made inaccurate factual statements about the adopted parents' desire to have the biological mother present at the trial. (They actually subpoenaed her.)
  • He made an inaccurate statement of law. (Consent for adoption is irrevocable absent some proof that the consent was not "freely and voluntarily given.")
  • He "engag[ed] in ... conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer's fitness to practice law. (The "emotional blackmail" message.)

Mitigation and Aggravation

As we mentioned, Gamble self-reported these mistakes. And one might argue that his heart was in the right place -- not only did the message advance his client's interests, but it's possible that he actually believed that keeping the child was what was best for the 18-year-old single mother. And he expressed remorse.

But, it turns out this wasn't Gamble's first trip to disciplinary court. Twice before, he faced disciplinary hearings. In the second one, he refused to show up for court, which drew the ire of the panel. They provided this warning: "If the Respondent engages in future misconduct, the Hearing Panel would suggest to any future Hearing Panels that the Respondent's chances have been used up and any subsequent disciplinary matters should result in proceedings before the Kansas Supreme Court." Despite Gamble's poor attitude in those hearings, he was neither censured nor suspended.

Gamble's behavior wasn't better this time around. Despite his initial cooperation, he showed up unprepared, accused one of the administrators of having a personal vendetta against him, and bemoaned the hearing process in general. The Kansas Supreme Court called his attitude "abysmal."

Do you think the punishment fit the misconduct? Let us hear your thoughts on Twitter @FindLawLP.

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