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Former GE Lawyer Suspended for Disclosing Company Info to Reporters

When a reporter calls, it's a good idea to answer rather than be identified as the "no-comment" lawyer.

That's like pleading the Fifth, and it doesn't go well in the court of public opinion. When you do talk to the media, however, be careful about what you say.

M. Adriana Koeck learned that lesson the hard way. She has been suspended from law practice for 60 days because she disclosed confidential company information.

Confidential Communications

Koeck was in-house counsel for General Electric until she was fired in 2007 after telling a superior that the company was misrepresenting information to help customers in Brazil avoid taxes. She sued for retaliation, but the company said she was fired for poor performance.

In the meantime, Koeck contacted a newspaper reporter, as well as the U.S. and Brazilian governments about the company's allegedly illegal activities. The U.S. District Court of Appeals said that violated ethics rules on confidential client communications.

Lynne Bernabei, Koeck's former attorney, and G. Robert Blakey, her former law professor, were also charged with misconduct because they helped Koeck. The team allegedly gave information about the company's activities to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The initial ethics complaint resulted in informal admonitions to Bernabei and Blakely. In the final disposition, the court said Koeck may be reinstated after she is fit to practice again.

Reporter's Privilege

News gatherers, like attorneys, have a duty to protect confidential sources. Reporters typically use the information they receive for publication, but do not disclose their sources.

In Koeck's case, the attorneys used the information for leverage in civil proceedings. One lawyer told opposing counsel they would go to the press if the underlying matter was not resolved.

Later, the story made it to the mass media. The initial article was published in Tax Notes International as "Blame It on Rio: GE's Brazilian Headache."

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