A lawyer’s reputation has value. A good reputation serves as a proxy for years of hard work and success in representing clients, particularly in difficult cases. There is nothing wrong, improper or unethical about a lawyer using his or her hard-earned reputation to attract new clients in a highly competitive market for legal services.
But a lawyer needs to be very careful not to sell his soul when a potential client wants to retain his services, not for his skills and experience, but for his reputation. This is particularly true when an individual or a business retains a lawyer to conduct an internal investigation and to issue a public report of his findings and conclusions–like the report recently issued by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro, a partner with the distinguished firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The report ostensibly clears New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of any wrongdoing in connection with the George Washington Bridge-closure scandal.
The media is reporting that Bridget Kelly, former aide to New Jersey governor Chris Christie, is “taking the Fifth” in response to subpoenas issued by a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge closure scandal. According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Kelly’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, wrote in a letter in response to the subpoenas:
Here, the information demanded from Ms. Kelly … directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. . . . As such … Ms. Kelly asserts her rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and New Jersey law and will not produce the information demanded by the Committee.
Is Ms. Kelly’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself proper in response to a subpoena? Possibly, but probably not. Here’s why.