Charleston, WV lawyer Michael P. Markins is in a boatload of trouble after improperly accessing the e-mail accounts of another law firm. Now why would anyone do something so stupid? Actually, I can halfway understand his original motivation – he was apparently concerned that his wife was having an affair so he wanted to read her work e-mail. Wrong and illegal, but understandable. However, once he had figured out how to access the e-mails of the lawyers at Offut, Fisher and Nord, he then proceeded to snoop on lawyers other than his wife out of what he termed “selfish curiosity.” How he could have possibly justified this conduct in his own mind defies belief, especially given the fact that the Offut firm was opposing his own firm in a mass litigation involving a flood.
The electronic evidence showed that, from his work computer, he accessed Offut’s e-mail accounts some 165 times in 243 days. At the time that a brief was filed with the state bar’s Disciplinary Board, his home computer had not yet been examined. Nonetheless, Offut’s internal investigation showed home access as well.
So how did he get into the e-mails? He discovered that he could go to the Offut website, click on a link and enter an attorney’s e-mail address and last name – simple as that. No doubt Offut has since improved the security of its e-mail access. As for Mr. Markins, the Disciplinary Board recommended that his license be suspended for two years. Arguments over the appropriate sanctions are scheduled for April 1st in front of the state Supreme Court.
Markins’ lawyer, Mike Callaghan, says “the punishment is excessive for the acts committed.” I take issue with that, to say the least. “Breaking and entering” into the computer network of another law firm is a serious crime and a major ethical lapse. More than a wrist slap is required to discourage this kind of conduct.
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