Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s beloved fictional attorney from her American masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird, embodies the strongest morals, ethics and actions. He is an attorney who protects his client’s interests above his own, a father who teaches his children to respect other views and opinions even if they are different, and a neighbor who recognized and valued the unique in all.
“Atticus, you must be wrong.”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong. . .”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
On Tuesday, the literary world was rocked by the announcement that Harper Lee would publish a new book this summer. Harper Lee! Author of one novel in her 88 years of existence had a new novel coming out. I heard the announcement on NPR as I was driving and very nearly had to pull off the road I was so excited. When I reached my computer, I began looking up the news articles. Harper Collins would publish in July; initial run of two million copies; Harper Lee thrilled that the book was so well-received; manuscript thought to be lost until Ms. Lee’s attorney found a copy of it attached to an original manuscript of To Kill A Mockingbird; story revolves around grown Scout going home to Macomb; written first. You’ve probably seen the announcements too. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-31118355, http://www.npr.org/2015/02/03/383578242/55-years-after-to-kill-a-mockingbird-harper-lee-to-release-new-novel, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/02/How-the-Long-Sequel-to-Harper-Lees-To-Kill-A-Mockingbird-Was-Found/385131/.
A day later, concerns began to be raised. Ms. Lee’s sister Alice who died in November, 2014 at the age of 103, had been Harper’s attorney, protector and essentially her guardian. That is when Harper Lee’s new attorney, Tonja Carter, became involved. In 2011, Alice Lee wrote: “Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”
Tonja Carter is the attorney who located the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Shortly after getting her law degree from the University of Alabama in 2006, Ms. Carter started working at Alice Lee’s century-old law firm, Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter, LLC doing probate and criminal law work.
“Ms. Alice just loved her. She’s almost like family to [the Lees]” said William R. “Bob” McMillan, the circuit clerk of Monroe County who said he got to know Ms. Carter through his professional work, in an interview with Law Blog.
She’s also married to a pilot who is the son of a cousin to the late author Truman Capote, who was a close friend of Ms. Lee’s and also from Monroeville. In 2013, the couple opened a restaurant called “The Prop and Gavel” in Monroeville’s historic downtown square, according to the Alabama Tourism Department. The business is temporarily closed, according to its Facebook page.
According to the Martingale-Hubbell Law Directory, Tonja Brooks Carter graduated from the University of Alabama school of law in 2006. Ms. Carter’s linkedin profile shows that her work experience as an attorney has been solely at the law firm of Barnett, Bugg, Lee and Carter in Monroeville, Alabama. The Lee in firm was Alice Lee. At this point, the firm consists only of John Barnett, III and Tonja Carter. I have not been able to locate a website for the firm or a photo of Ms. Carter. Her practice areas are listed on linkedin as including litigation, criminal law, family law and wills.
Ms. Carter appears to be as publicity-shy as her client, Harper Lee.
As do all states, the Alabama Supreme Court has established Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, to which Ms. Carter and all attorneys in the state are subject. For example:
Conflict of Interest: General Rule.
(a) A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client will be directly adverse to another client, unless:
(1) The lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not adversely affect the relationship with the other client; and
(2) Each client consents after consultation.
(b) A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client or a third person, or by the lawyer’s own interests, unless:
(1) The lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and
(2) The client consents after consultation. When representation of multiple clients in a single matter is undertaken, the consultation shall include explanation of the implications of the common representation and the advantages and risks involved.
Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct Client-Lawyer Relationship
Conflict of Interest: Prohibited Transactions.
(a) A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security, or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless:
(1) the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing to the client in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;
(2) the client is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent counsel in the transaction; and
(3) the client consents in writing thereto.
(b) A lawyer shall not use information relating to representation of a client to the disadvantage of the client unless the client consents after consultation, except as permitted or required by Rule 1.6 or Rule 3.3.
(c) A lawyer shall not prepare an instrument giving the lawyer or a person related to the lawyer as parent, child, sibling, or spouse any substantial gift from a client, including a testamentary gift, except where the client is related to the donee.
(d) Prior to the conclusion of representation of a client, a lawyer shall not make or negotiate an agreement giving the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account based in substantial part on information relating to the representation.
(e) A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that:
(1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter;
(2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client;
(3) a lawyer may advance or guarantee emergency financial assistance to the client, the repayment of which may not be contingent on the outcome of the matter, provided that no promise or assurance of financial assistance was made to the client by the lawyer, or on the lawyer’s behalf, prior to the employment of
the lawyer; and
(4) in an action in which an attorney’s fee is expressed and payable, in whole or in part, as a percentage of the recovery in the action, a lawyer may pay, from his own account, court costs and expenses of litigation. The fee paid to the attorney from the proceeds of the action may include an amount equal to such costs and expenses incurred.
(f) A lawyer shall not accept compensation for representing a client from one other than the client unless:
(1) the client consents after consultation or the lawyer is appointed pursuant to an insurance contract;
(2) there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and
(3) information relating to the representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6.
(g) A lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making an aggregate settlement of the claims of or against the clients, or in a criminal case an aggregated agreement as to guilty or nolo contendere pleas, unless each client consents after consultation, including disclosure of the existence and nature of all claims or pleas involved and of the participation of each person in the settlement.
(h) A lawyer shall not make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer’s liability to a client for malpractice unless permitted by law and the client is independently represented in making the agreement, or settle a claim for such liability with an unrepresented client or former client without first advising that person in writing that independent representation is appropriate in connection therewith.
(i) A lawyer related to another lawyer as parent, child, sibling, or spouse shall not represent a client in a representation directly adverse to a person who the lawyer knows is represented by the other lawyer except upon consent by the client after consultation regarding the relationship.
(j) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client, except that a lawyer may:
(1) acquire a lien granted by law to secure the lawyer’s fee or expenses; and
(2) contract with a client for a reasonable contingent fee in a civil case.
(k) In no event shall a lawyer represent both parties in a divorce or domestic
relations proceeding, or in matters involving custody of children, alimony, or child support, whether or not contested. In an uncontested proceeding of this nature a lawyer may have contact with the nonrepresented party and shall be deemed to have complied with this prohibition if the nonrepresented party knowingly executes a document that is filed in such proceeding acknowledging:
(1) that the lawyer does not and cannot appear to serve as the lawyer for the nonrepresented party;
(2) that the lawyer represents only the client and will use the lawyer’s best efforts to protect the client’s best interests;
(3) that the nonrepresented party has the right to employ counsel of the party’s own choosing and has been advised that it may be in the party’s best interest to do so; and
(4) that having been advised of the foregoing, the nonrepresented party has requested the lawyer to prepare an answer and waiver under which the cause may be submitted without notice and as may be appropriate.
(l) A lawyer shall not engage in sexual conduct with a client or representative of a client that exploits or adversely affects the interests of the client or the lawyer-client relationship, including, but not limited to:
(1) requiring or demanding sexual relations with a client or a representative of a client incident to or as a condition of legal representation;
(2) continuing to represent a client if the lawyer’s sexual relations with the client or the representative of the client cause the lawyer to render incompetent representation.
(m) Except for a spousal relationship or a sexual relationship that existed at the commencement of the lawyer-client relationship, sexual relations between the lawyer and the client shall be presumed to be exploitive. This presumption is rebuttable.
(n) While lawyers are associated in a firm, a prohibition in the foregoing paragraphs (a) through (h) and in paragraphs (j) and (k) that applies to one of them shall apply to all of them.
Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct Client-Lawyer Relationship
Client with Diminished Capacity.
(a) When a client’s ability to make adequately considered decisions in connection with the representation is diminished, whether because of minority, mental impairment, or for some other reason, the lawyer shall, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the client.
(b) When the lawyer reasonably believes that the client has diminished capacity, is at risk of substantial physical, financial, or other harm unless action is taken, and cannot adequately act in the client’s own interest, the lawyer may take reasonably necessary protective action, including consulting with individuals or entities that have the ability to take action to protect the client and, in appropriate cases, seeking the appointment of a guardian ad litem, conservator, or guardian.
(c) Information relating to the representation of a client with diminished capacity is protected by Rule 1.6. When taking protective action pursuant to paragraph (b), the lawyer is impliedly authorized under Rule 1.6(a) to reveal information about the client, but only to the extent necessary to protect the client’s interest.
Atticus Finch would definitely have upheld these rules of conduct. He exemplified them. Let’s all hope Ms. Carter does as well.