Lying lawyers better watch out. The Massachusetts courts are not going to allow you to prevaricate at your heart’s content without consequences. To wit, the story of Kathleen Kilkenny, a Mass lawyer who was involved in a contested divorce action. So she basically lies under oath about her income stating she made about $50K when in fact it was closer to $125K. Under oath! So the court busted her and now she’s been suspended from practicing law for 3 months. Here’s a summary of her case from Mass.gov:
The Board found that Kilkenny committed three acts of misconduct, all related to her divorce proceeding. First, she made handwritten suggested revisions to a letter to her husband’s attorney drafted by her employer, William Hammett, which caused Hammett to revise an accurate description of her compensation arrangement with him (that they had a verbal agreement by which he would pay her, over and beyond her weekly draws, fifty percent of the net fees she generated) to an inaccurate description (that, apart from her weekly draws, she may receive bonuses in his discretion, and that there was no specific method of determining how much he would pay her in bonuses). Second, the financial statement she filed in her divorce action left blank the line where she was asked to state her gross yearly income in 2003. As a result, she failed to reveal that her gross income had increased from $55,302.58 in 2002 to $126,365.40 in 2003.2 Third, despite this material omission, when asked by the judge at the hearing in the Probate and Family Court on February 10, 2004, whether she had “accurately and completely” stated her income, expenses, assets, and liabilities on the financial statement, she answered under oath, “To the best of my knowledge, yes.” When she was then asked whether she had “fully and completely disclosed [her] financial circumstances and resources to [her], husband,” she again replied, “To the best of my knowledge, yes.”3
While the Board’s recommendation is entitled to substantial deference, a public reprimand is insufficient where, as here, an attorney misrepresented her assets to the Probate and Family Court during a contested divorce proceeding. See Matter of Finnerty, 418 Mass. 821., 830 ( 1994). “An effective judicial system depends on the honesty and integrity of lawyers who appear in their tribunals.”. Id. at 829.
Here’s a question: What if a lawyer lies about his or her income in a proceeding or whatever to say that he or she makes, say, $125K when in fact it’s more like $50K. Would this lawyer similarly be suspended? In other words is inflating your income as big a crime as deflating it whether in the context of a divorce proceeding or whatever? Ethically I would really like to know.