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New Ethics Rules: What's Changing, What's Interesting?

Somewhere in the Bible or the movies, there are Seven Deadly Sins -- not 70.

But that's how many new ethics rules will be imposed on California lawyers this year. Technically, it's only 69 but that would make the first sentence really wrong.

Actually, it would have been 70 but the state Supreme Court rejected one. It means attorneys can get away with at least one thing.

Harassment, Discrimination and Sex

Leah T. Wilson, executive director of the State Bar, said it's the biggest overhaul of ethics rules in nearly 30 years. In the #MeToo era, some would say, it was a long time coming.

One concern involves harassment and discrimination by lawyers. Now the State Bar will open investigations without waiting for civil or criminal findings.

The new rules will also require attorneys who face discrimination discipline to report themselves to state and federal agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws.

Rule 3-120, the rule against sex with clients, will be stricter. It will be unethical unless the parties have a "prior consensual relationship," although lawyer-spousal relations are exempted.

Prosecutor Misconduct

The State Bar will add to the prosecutor's duty to disclose information to defense counsel. The amendment to Rule 5-110 is built upon the prosecutor's obligation to disclose information that "tends to negate the guilt" or "mitigate the sentence" of the accused.

The state Supreme Court specifically mandated that rule, which is similar to the American Bar Association Rule 3.8.

The new rules will take effect Nov. 1, 2018.

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