Libel

Maybe He Deserved Those Negative Online Reviews?

"Underhill was disciplined for publicly responding to former clients’ negative online reviews with internet postings that disclosed sensitive and confidential information obtained during the representation. Underhill then ...."

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From People v. Underhill (Colo. Sup. Ct. Office of Presiding Disciplinary Judge, issued Sept. 17 but just posted on Westlaw recently):

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge dismissed the reinstatement petition of James C. Underhill Jr. on September 17, 2020.

In 2015, Underhill was suspended for eighteen months, to run consecutive to a suspension imposed in an earlier disciplinary case. Underhill was disciplined for publicly responding to former clients' negative online reviews with internet postings that disclosed sensitive and confidential information obtained during the representation. Underhill then sued the couple for defamation and communicated with them ex parte, even though he knew that they were represented by counsel, and despite their lawyer's repeated demands that he not do so. When the lawsuit was dismissed, Underhill brought a second defamation action in a different court, alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings. Underhill was also suspended for misconduct in a second client matter in which he published an attorney-client communication online.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge dismissed Underhill's petition for reinstatement with leave to refile. The Presiding Disciplinary Judge concluded that because five years had elapsed since Underhill had been suspended, he was required under C.R.C.P. 251.29(b) to pass the Colorado bar exam before petitioning for reinstatement. Because Underhill neither took nor passed the Colorado bar exam before petitioning for reinstatement, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge found that Underhill failed to state a claim that he is entitled to be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado.

To be fair, it's hard for a lawyer (or a psychiatrist or someone in a similar profession) to respond to clients' negative reviews, given the obligations of confidentiality. But that's part of the job.

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  1. Negative remarks are beneficial. They deter self referrals from the internet, usually by undesirables.

    1. That’s a teleological justification, though.

  2. re: “it’s hard for a (profession X) to respond to clients’ negative reviews”

    Regardless of profession, it’s almost always a bad idea to try to respond to negative reviews. You just come across as defensive and untrustworthy. Worse, of course, when you actually are untrustworthy.

    1. Well, if its just a consumer complaint, it is ususally appropriate to give a brief, hey, what can we do to make things better, I’m sorry you feel that way, that’s usually good.

      But yeah if it is a professional role like doctor or lawyer then … you know exactly what went wrong, and it won’t be resolved in an internet comment. And then it sounds petty and defensive because your highlighting your personal relationship that didn’t work out.

  3. It seems in addition to responding, Underhill went beyond that and filed baseless law suits, communicated inappropriately with the former clients then in another instance disclosed privileged communications.

    However smart or stupid is was to do so it does not seem Underhill was really disciplined for responding to the negative reviews, but for actual misconduct. I’m pretty sure beyond that the behavior involved did not reflect credit on the legal profession

    Had Underhill replied to the negative reviews with something professional, like “I’m sorry you were unhappy with the outcome but the facts are not as you have represented but I’m unable to respond further due to my professional responsibilities.” I doubt there would have been any disciplinary action, even if his former clients has made a formal complaint, even a more pointed response probably would not have drawn any sanctions.

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