Extortion and Professional Irresponsibility

 

Most people often have the misconception that being a member of the legal profession automatically affords one a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. Needless to say, such a privilege has not and will not, ever be available to any member of society, including those who make, shape and enforce the law. A lesson which two Tennessee lawyers chose to learn the hard way, instead of in a Professional Responsibility course.  “Two Tennessee lawyers have been indicted by a grand jury [on March 12, 2014] in an extortion case . . . They are accused of pressuring a client [Michelle Langolis] several years ago to pay $50,000 in probate case legal fees she had not agreed to pay by threatening her with arrest.” [1]   Additionally, attorneys Carrie Gasaway,  and Fletcher Long, who once worked together as law partners, did go on to have Langolis arrested on a theft-of-services charge, alleging that she had issued them a bad $50,000 check, eventually these charges were dropped. [2] However, after being arrested Langolis retained the services of another attorney who had her bond reduced to a reasonable amount, and on February 28, 2012 “at the request of District Attorney General John Carney, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) began looking into the allegation.[3] In October 2010, Langlois sought the legal services the accused, in the reading of her father’s will. [4] “An initial fee for the services was agreed upon by both parties….after the will reading, Gasaway asked Langlois to sign a contract for an additional $50,000…when Langlois refused, Gasaway and Long made continued demands for the additional payment and then obtained an arrest warrant for the victim with a $75,000 bond.”[5]

 

On March 5, 2014, after a two year investigation the case was finally filed with Montgomery County Grand Jury.[6] The grand jury returned indictments on one count of Extortion against Gasaway and one against Long. It is only right that both attorneys be treated as having the same mental state and criminal intent within this particular circumstance. Both individuals “unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” used coercion upon a former client.[7] Their actions are not only morally and ethically wrong, but they should be punished in both the professional and criminal capacity. Gasaway and Long’s unethical legal practices hurt the profession as whole because it enhances the long standing negative perceptions some members of society harbor towards lawyers. Their actions were also detrimental to past clients, which is a clear violation of Model Rule 8.4 (b), which prohibits a lawyer from committing criminal acts of any kinds. 

 

Outside of possibly being sanctioned professionally by the ABA for professional misconduct, Gasaway and Long face far more serious charges in state court. Most states define extortion as “the gaining of property or money by almost any kind of force, or threat of 1) violence, 2) property damage, 3) harm to reputation, or 4) unfavorable government actions.” [8] Individuals who are extorted can be thought of as victims of bullying because they are forced to do things outside of their will, out of fear instilled in them by someone who seems more powerful and/or threatening. Gasaway and Long threatened their former client with jail time and then made good on their promise when she refused to pay such an outrageous amount of money for a probate case. It is important for the court to send the message that there is no room for such professional misconduct within this particular career field. Lawyers are advocates, counselors and trusted confidants, who owe a duty of loyalty and care to all of their current, past and perspective clients. Failing to properly punish and/or fine Gasaway and Long would have negative professional and ethical implications for practicing lawyers in the future, it could send a message that over charging clients and black mailing them is acceptable when in fact it is not and has never been.

 

 Gasaway and Long surrendered at the Montgomery County Jail on March 12, 2014 and both were released on their own recognizance.[9] The arraignment hearing was held that same day.[10]  Nonetheless, this investigation is still active and ongoing, with District Attorney General Tommy Thompson prosecuting the case.[11] It is highly probable that with the insurmountable time spent investigating this incident and with the support of the evidence collected both Gasaway and Long will likely face harsh professional and criminal disciplinary sanctions, which are justly deserved for their great displays of professional irresponsibility.

 


[1] Neil, Martha. “2 Lawyers Indicted for Extortion, Accused of Using Arrest Threat to Seek Purported Fees from Client.” 2 Lawyers Indicted for Extortion, Accused of Using Arrest Threat to Seek Purported Fees from Client. American Bar Association Journal, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/2_lawyers_indicted_in_extortion_case_accused_of/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=ABA+Journal+Top+Stories>.

[2] Id.

[3] Illanatate. “TBI Arrests Two Attorneys in Extortion Case | Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://tbinews.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/tbi-arrests-two-attorneys-in-extortion-case/>.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Green, Tavia D. “Two Clarksville Attorneys Charged with Extortion.” The Leaf Chronicle. The Leaf Chronicle, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.theleafchronicle.com/article/20140312/NEWS01/303120021>.

[8] “Extortion.” Findlaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/extortion.html>.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

 

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