Lawyer Fined $50,000 for Inappropriate Deposition Questions

September 16th, 2020

When taking depositions in any case, attorneys balance their zealous representation with their clients with adherence to ethical and professional guidelines. In family law cases, that adherence is even more important because minor children can suffer extreme "collateral" damage.

In a case out of Ventura County, California, a state appellate court upheld sanctions that had been imposed by a Ventura County, California judge against an attorney in a child custody case. The attorney's questions, the judge ruled, exposed confidential information gleaned from court-ordered custody evaluations to those who shouldn't have access to such information.

"[The opinion] affirmed the sanction slapped on attorney Lisa H. Meyer of Los Angeles but reverses the order rendering Meyer’s client jointly and severally liable.

Meyer asked Yeager several questions related to a child custody evaluation ordered by the court in the proceeding, which included a psychological report on the child."

In general, information from child custody evaluations or psychological reports in child custody and/or visitation proceedings is confidential unless it falls under narrow exemptions. If the disclosure isn't exempt, the Court can sanction attorneys and parties.

"Family Code §3111(d) permits the court to impose sanctions upon a determination that 'an unwarranted disclosure of a written confidential report has been made….' Sec. 3111(f) states that 'a disclosure is unwarranted if it is done either recklessly or maliciously, and is not in the best interests of the child.'"

Meyer's contention that this rule "applies only to protect the written report itself, and not the information contained in it," was "absurd," Presiding Judge Arthur Gilbert said. He said that while attorneys must serve their clients vigorously, their advocacy must also "be tempered by the professional and ethical constraints the legal profession demands," and, "unfortunately, that did not happen here."