Kentucky Court of Justice
Supreme Court approves new rules governing attorney conduct
Revised Supreme Court Rules that become effective 7-15-2009
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- For the first time in nearly 20 years the Supreme Court of Kentucky has approved comprehensive revisions to its rules governing attorney conduct, including a new rule that requires attorneys who know about professional misconduct by other attorneys or judges to report the misconduct.
Other significant changes to the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct address attorney duties regarding contingency fee agreements, confidential information, clients that are organizations, trial publicity, non-clients, documents sent inadvertently, the unauthorized practice of law and multijurisdictional practice.
The amended rules become effective July 15, 2009. The Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct were last reviewed for proposed comprehensive revisions in 1989, with the changes going into effect in 1990.
“The revised rules reflect thoughtful changes that will bring Kentucky into line with national standards for attorney conduct,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. “Our goal is to improve public confidence in our state’s legal profession by strengthening attorney accountability.”
The new rule on reporting attorney misconduct, Section 8.3, is adopted from the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The rule mandates that an attorney who knows that another attorney committed a violation of the professional ethics code that raises substantial question about that attorney’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness report the professional misconduct to the Kentucky Bar Association’s counsel. The KBA is an agency of the Supreme Court of Kentucky that is charged with regulation of the legal profession. All lawyers admitted to practice in Kentucky must be members of the KBA. The rule requires attorneys to report judicial misconduct to the Judicial Conduct Commission, which has authority over judges.
The revised rules are the result of a KBA committee established to review the code of conduct for Kentucky attorneys and propose changes based on the ABA Model Rules. After review by the KBA Board of Governors and the Supreme Court, public hearings were held on the proposed rule changes at the KBA conventions in 2007 and 2008. Following the hearings, the Supreme Court reviewed the proposals again and finalized the revisions.
“The Kentucky Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct establish the ethical duties lawyers have to clients, the courts, third parties, the profession and the public,” said KBA Chief Bar Counsel Linda Gosnell. “These new amendments will add to the solid foundation of the current rules and case law of our court.”
Professor William H. Fortune, who teaches ethics at the University of Kentucky College of Law, assisted the Supreme Court as it discussed the proposed rule changes.
“The Rules Committee and the Supreme Court worked long and hard on this project and the rules adopted by the court will greatly benefit the public and the legal profession,” he said.
Among the significant changes to the rules and their locations are:
- Contingent fees – Section 1.5 c
- Confidentiality – Sections 1.6 and 4.1
- Attorney’s duty when client is an organization – Section 1.13
- Non-clients – Section 3.4 g
- Trial publicity – Section 3.6
- Attorney duty upon receiving a document sent inadvertently – Section 4.4
- Unauthorized practice of law/multijurisdictional practice – Section 5.5
- Reporting professional misconduct – Section 8.3
Other noteworthy revisions to the rules and their locations are:
- Conflict of interest regarding current clients – Section 1.8
- Duties to former clients – Section 1.9
- Withdrawal of representation – Section 1.16
- Failure to correct false statement or disclose adverse authority – Section 3.3
- Special responsibilities of a prosecutor – Section 3.8
- Communication with individuals represented by other counsel – Section 4.2
- Attorneys sharing fees – Section 5.4
- Misconduct – Section 8.4
The Supreme Court of Kentucky is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law. Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court and all seven justices rule on appeals that come before the court. The justices are elected from seven appellate districts and serve eight-year terms. A chief justice, chosen for a four-year term by fellow justices, is the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation. The Supreme Court may order a ruling or opinion to be published, which means that the ruling becomes the case law governing all similar cases in the future in Kentucky.