Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Question: For the ten years my wife and I have been married, I have kept all of the family financial records on our computer. In an effort to not maintain excess paper, I would scan into the computer what was important and destroy other papers every two years or so. Keeping good records was important because my wife is the beneficiary of a few trusts and has inherited a good bit of money over the years. After a year or so of marital problems, I decided to consult with a divorce lawyer.
When I gave my lawyer the facts, he told me that because my wife's non-marital funds were the source of the vast majority of the assets we had acquired, my share of the property would probably be minimal. But, he said, without the records on the computer, it would be difficult and expensive for my wife to reconstruct various transactions. He told me that it would be to my benefit if the computer records were not available, and suggested that I make backups that only I would keep and then delete the records from the computer to put us in a better bargaining position to get a bigger share of the property.
Not only was I surprised that this lawyer would talk this way, but I began thinking about what would happen if my wife's lawyers had advised her to get a copy of everything on the computer without my knowledge before I deleted the records and lied about their existence. What should I do?
Answer: It is axiomatic that lawyers should not (1) counsel or assist clients in criminal or fraudulent conduct, or (2) use false evidence. Your lawyer's advice amounts to him helping you engage in conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, and deceit. In fact, by suggesting that you lie under oath, your lawyer is placing you in the position of being indicted for perjury. Telling a client to destroy evidence is a breach of a lawyer's professional responsibility. We suggest that you get another lawyer and call your state bar association disciplenary counsel.
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