by Travis Mateer
Last month I asked the following question in a post titled WTF Is Going On Between The Jurisdictional Sheets Of the Missoula And Mineral County Sheriff Offices? Here’s the portion of the post I’m revisiting in my mind as I consider what kind of bell I rang last Thursday with my first and last contact with Rob Bell, of Reep Bell & Jasper.
Lance Jasper is an attorney in Missoula who strangely showed up at the Mineral County Commissioner hearing last November, the one where Rebekah Barsotti’s mother, Angela Mastrovito, began dismantling the false impression a real search was taking place for her daughter, and not a cover-up.
I finally spoke with Mr. Jasper a few months ago because I really wanted to know what he was up to. After a few unreturned calls, a promise to write about his stonewalling did the trick. Lance Jasper explained to me he was just showing up to encourage Sheriff Toth to ask for outside assistance. Jasper claimed he did this because he knew Toth’s Office wasn’t up to the task.
Also, Lance Jasper was present at the Johnny Lee Perry Coroner’s Inquest, but I’m not sure in what capacity.
If Lance Jasper hadn’t inserted himself into the Barsotti case last November, I probably wouldn’t have taken notice of his presence at Johnny Lee Perry coroner’s inquest this spring, and I doubt the case his law office has taken against the Mineral County Attorney’s Office, on behalf of some Mineral County Sheriff Deputies, would have been on my radar.
But he did, and I noticed, and here we are with my first and last contact with a man I’ve never met, and he’s certainly never met me, and now, sadly, our paths seem barred from crossing after I got this response from an email I cc’d him on:
I do not know who you are. Based upon the business card you left at our office, I understand you claim to operate a private blog of some sort. When I attempted to go to the blog website to determine its purpose or legitimacy, I received a security warning from my browser. That, combined with the aggressive tone of your email, concerns me. You seem to believe, mistakenly, that it is our role or responsibility to answer questions about our cases posed by third-parties who walk into our office off the street. It isn’t and we don’t.
Our office is a private workplace. I ask that you neither come here nor contact us again.
Clearly I rang Bell’s bell, so let’s see how AGGRESSIVE I was in this aggressive email.
I’m not sure how a lawyer like Rob Bell defines the word AGGRESSIVE, but maybe my tendency to CAPITALIZE words for emphasis was interpreted as unnecessarily hostile. Oh well.
The settlement I am referencing was reported on in this Missoulian article last month. In rereading this article, the HOW I am inquiring about is reported as simply Deputies filing this case in January. From the link:
Erica Grinde, Missoula County director of risk management and benefits, said the discrepancy in the deputies’ wages “stemmed from some unclear state statutes.”
She said state legislation passed in 2021 required parity and certification pay to be included in deputies’ wages, but Missoula County failed to include those wages in the deputies’ base pay.
“The claim alleged that because those factors weren’t included it decreased the deputies’ earnings,” explained Grinde.
Deputies filed the claim in January.
So, if I had to use my imagination, I’d say that a bunch of Sheriff Deputies were hanging out discussing the finer points of state legislation when the topic of pay parity came up, so obviously they went to the specific language of the legislation referenced in the article, and THAT gave them the bright idea to reach out to competent lawyers who could get them their hard earned pay.
Is that how it went down?
I guess I won’t be getting a chance to discuss this with Rob Bell because he checked me out and saw this warning from his browser:
Well, I did some checking as well, and got a different type of warning from examining Rob Bell’s recent political contributions:
Despite this quick antagonism toward me and my questions, I would definitely recommend hiring these lawyers, especially if you’re dealing with trespassing issues. When I worked at the old Poverello Center, which was right next door to Reep Bell & Jasper, I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully trespass someone. That is why I won’t be responding to Mr. Bell’s email.
One suggestion, though. If you are considering hiring this law firm, a process of screening for conflicts of interest is usually standard operating procedure, but how this law firm defines THAT is a question for a different post.
Thanks for reading!
NIce turn of phrase in the header of this piece!
Bell’s verbiage in his reply may be unnecessarily unfriendly, but the bottom line is that he not only won’t, but without a client’s permission *CANNOT*, reveal “information relating to the representation of a client” to you or anyone else except as authorized by applicable rules of professional conduct. Such rules provide for exceptions to the general prohibition against unauthorized disclosure of information related to the representation of a client.
Earlier versions of this prohibition in most states prohibited a lawyer’s revelation of a client’s “confidences and secrets.” The contemporary iteration of the prohibition is thus much broader than the prior one.
There is no exception permitting unauthorized discussion of information related to representation of a client’s case with, for example, a person dropping off a business card identifying himself as a citizen journalist, social critic and/or poet.
This applies in most situations even to information that is public record. Moreover, a lawyer may be disciplined even for negligent revelation of infomation that causes no harm to the client and for which the client has not complained to the disciplinary authority and does not want the lawyer disciplined.
Most states’ rules of lawyer conduct promulgated and adopted by their lawyer regulatory authorities (including Montana’s) go still farther, and provide for disciplining a lawyer for inadequate methods of protecting client information that *could* potentially result in compromise of client information, even where no such breach occurs.
In Montana, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is the entity that investigates allegations of lawyer misconduct violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) promulgated and adopted by the Montana Supreme Court. You can examine the Montana version of the relevant rule — Rule 1.6 — at the State Bar of Montana website, at a publicly accessible page, here:
I have copied and pasted below, the most recent published iteration of MRPC 1.6:
RULE 1.6: CONFIDENTIALITY OF INFORMATION (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).
(b) A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm;
(2) to prevent the client from committing a crime or fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services;
(3) to prevent, mitigate, or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another that is reasonably certain to result, or has resulted, from the client’s commission of a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;
(4) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;
(5) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client;
(6) to comply with other law or a court order; or
(7) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.
(c) A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.
I’m not sure where you’re going with the COPP record of Bell’s political contributions. There is no prohibited conflict of interest arising merely from the making of a political contribution, or political contributions to both a homophobic, Right Wing Nut Job Attorney General and to the campaign of an incumbent liberal Montana Supreme Court Justice. There is no conflict of interest arising from contributions to opposing candidates in the same election. Lawyers do not surrender their First Amendment right to make lawful political campaign contributons upon taking their oaths as members of the Bar. That a lawyer represents clients in lawsuits against a public agency or official, does not ipso facto mean the lawyer cannot make lawful polifical campaign contributions to that official’s election campaign, absent an express or implied quid pro quo.
For example, if an Arizona lawyer file suitys against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio on behalf of persons subjected to inhumane jail conditions and inhumane treatment by Arpaio, it is not a conflict of interest merely for that lawyer to make, or to have made, lawful contributions to Arpaio’s campaign for re-election, absent expressed or implied quid pro quo. I mean, the lawyer may look at the candidate challenging Arpaio and conclude that she would be even worse than Joe.
The Montana Rule of Professional Conduct pertaining to confiicts of interest immediately follows the Confidentiality provision, as MRPC 1.7. As you’ll see upon review of MRPC 1.7, some conflicts of interest are waivable by the client, while others are not.
Of course, the First Amendment, and its Montana Constitution corrollary, permit you to access, observe, investigate and write about, information related to a lawsuit party or the party’s counsel, but one ought to exercise great care in so doing, to not defame the lawyer with insuations of ethical misconduct. Obtaining advice of counsel would be prudent when undertaking such investigtory citizen journalism.
You have a friend who practiced law for 30+ years, representing many high-profile clients, who is always happy to provide info such as that provided above.
In fact, that friend was suspended from law practice for 90 days by another state bar’s regulatory authority pursuant to its Rule 1.6, in a quite interesting and in my opinion quite unjust application of the rule. The fact pattern:
(1) The lawyer’s landlord — who was also a lawyer and party to a pair of lawsuits the landlord lawyer and tenant lawyer commenced against each other — searched sealed, opaque garbage bags filled with trash by the tenant lawyer and his paralegal that were awaiting transport by the paralegal a couple hours later, from the back yard of the residence in which tenant lawyer had rented an apt from the landlord lawyer, to a waste processing center.
(2) In one of the sealed, opaque trash bags, the landlord lawyer found an envelope bearing the return address of a state prisoner.
(3) Landlord lawyer removed a letter from the envelope, read it, and sent photocopies of the letter to the Oregon State Bar (thereby making them, upon commencement of formal investigation by that state’s Bar, public records).
(4) The landlord lawyer thus actually published the name, inmate number, and correctional facility address of the prisoner, as well as the substance of the letter.
(5) The landlord lawyer also broke state law by mailing copies of the envelope and letter to the prison, addressed to the prisoner, without labeling the mail as confidential legal mail not to be read by prison staff.The landlord lawyer enclosed his own letter to the prisoner relating how he came into possession of the prisoner’s correspondence and informing the prisoner that he mght want to retain counsel to sue the tenant lawyer.
(6) The tenant lawyer’s paralegal had inadvertently placed the envelope in a trash bag while helping the tenant lawyer move out. Hundreds of pages of other documents related to past clients were placed by tenant lawyer and his patralegal in sealed, opaque containers that were locked in a cargo truck for transport with the tenant lawyer to Montana, where he was moving.
(7) The prisoner’s letter simply asked — without providing any information related to his criminal case — whether the tenant lawyer would assist the prisoner in seeking reversal of his conviction.
(8) The prisoner was not even a client of the tenant lawyer, but the applicable iteration of the confidentiality rule applied (as all iterations ought to) to prospective clients’, as well as current and past clients’, information.
(9) Also inadvertently placed into the same trash bag by the paralegal was a copy of a public record — a final order by a state administrative agency before which tenant lawyer had successfully represented a client. Landlord client disclosed that client’s name to the state Bar and wrote the client a letter like the one he sent to the prisoner. (With consent of that administrative agency case client, tenant lawyer submitted other case data to the bar in defending himself against an allegation of Rule 1.6 violations by tenant lawyer that landlord lawyer, as explained below, filed with the Oregon State Bar against tenant lawyer. Tenant lawyer procured redaction of that client’s name and identifying information from the Bar’s publicly accessible records).
(10) Neither the prisoner nor the administratrive.agency matter client made any complaint to the state bar, and the latter person was furious with the landlord lawyer and wrote the state Bar expressing no desire whatsoever for the tenant lawyer to be disciplined, and strongly condemning landlord lawyer’s conduct.
(11) Nonetheless, the landlord lawyer was not investigated for misconduct despite publishing those person’s information, whereas the tenant lawyer was disciplined (90-day suspension from practice) for having not exercised reasonable care to prevent potential unbauthorized disclosure of client-related information.
It is the spectre of that kind of weird — and, I maintain, unjust — outcome that in my opinion makes lawyers extremely reluctant to speak with anyone about even most trivial, public and non-prejudicial matters in the remotest manner related to a client’s case.
I’m sure that by now, your readers have surmised that the lawyer suspended for 90 days was yours truly.
I’m also sure you know — but I so state nonetheless — that the foregoing does not constitute provision of legal advice, should not be construed as provision of legal advice, and should not be relied upon by any person as such. I’ve not yet reinstated my Oregon State Bar active membership, have not yet applied for admission to the State Bar of Montana, and am not authorized by law to dispense legal advice. I’ve merely provided the URL for two Montana Rules of Professional Conduct and the text of one of them, related a personal experience involving a corollary Oregon Rule, expressed personal opinions about the chilling effect on lawyers’ speech resulting from what I contend to be absurd and selective application and enforcement of the Rule, and affirmed ny willingness to direct you to publicly accessible resources addressing items of concern any time.
Be well! Stay hydrated! Keep up the muckraking re the Barsotti affair.
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