By now, Michael Avenatti is a household name. He shot to fame in 2018 while relentlessly representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in her pursuit of the invalidation of a 2016 non-disclosure agreement regarding an alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Avenatti is famously brash and confrontational, and since his rapid rise to fame, numerous allegations of professional misconduct have come to the public’s attention. While he has avoided formal discipline thus far, it seems like only a matter of time until Avenatti faces some consequences for his actions.
All attorneys, in every jurisdiction in which they are admitted to the bar and in every area of practice, have an obligation to comply with that jurisdiction’s Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the past few decades have shed light on the unusual practices of attorneys in the entertainment industry, particularly on how they handle conflicts of interest. Generally, these attorneys encourage clients to waive conflicts of interest, and those clients are all too happy to do so. This practice only serves to further blur the lines in an already complicated area of legal ethics.
Most major American corporations develop and implement an ethics and compliance (E&C) program. However, too often, the ethics division of these programs falls to the wayside, with companies putting more focus on legal compliance rather than creating an ethical corporate culture. While it is true that compliance can technically function without an ethics component, a robust ethics program can be an extremely efficient way for a company to promote legal compliance, as well as consumer trust and loyalty.
Arizona and Idaho are the most recent in a long line of states declining to adopt the American Bar Association’s (ABA) new Model Rule 8.4(g), which is being called the “anti-discrimination” rule. This rule was adopted by the ABA to specifically address harassment and discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, and LGBTQ status in all conduct related to the practice of law. However, because of the broad construction and application of the rule, many states and attorneys have concerns that compliance with this anti-discrimination rule will infringe on their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion.
President Trump has made his opinion of federal regulations known from the very start of his presidency. He clearly believes that federal regulations, especially those established by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), inhibit economic growth and unduly burden American businesses. However, it is equally unclear how his deregulatory efforts have benefitted anyone other than corporate America. Rather than utilizing his considerable influence to protect the health of the American people, President Trump and his administration have been hard at work unraveling such protections, much to the frustration of the states.