Ethical Issues in the Pelican Brief
In the hit book, The Pelican Brief, John Grisham’s depiction of lawyers who will do anything for money and their clients presents an interesting ethical dilemma. In the book, two Supreme Court justices are killed by a hired assassin, Khamel. FBI, CIA, and the press are working hard to find who the killer is. The only people who know the truth are attorneys from White and Blazevich, Nathaniel Jones (also known as Einstein), Jarreld Schwabe, Marty Velmano, and F. Sims Wakefield and their client, Victor Mattiece.
The action commences when Darby Shaw writes a brief about who she thinks is responsible for the deaths of two Supreme Court Justices, Rosenberg and Jensen. She shows the document to Thomas Callahan, her professor and lover.
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He hands the brief over to his friend Gavin Verheek, he is special council of the FBI Director. That’s the way the “Pelican Brief” goes the round through the FBI, the CIA and of course the White House. The president now has to restructure the Court because of Rosenberg and Jensen’s death. That is Victor Mattiece’s aim.
He knows that the president will chose conservative justices who will vote for Mattiece’s plans of gaining the oil in Louisiana. Mattiece also becomes aware of the “Pelican Brief” and decides to kill everyone who is involved in it to keep his plans secret. He hires the killer “Khamel” to murder Darby Shaw and Thomas Callahan. The story develops as Victor Mattiece, as well as, White and Blazevich firm attempt through either illegal or unethical measures to hire someone to kill anyone who knows about the brief and could jeopardize their plans.
It is a book, so it all ends up more-or-less happily-ever-after for the young girl and Grantham, the journalist, who meet on the island of St. Thomas after exposure of White and Blazevich and Victor Mattiece. Grantham helps Darby Shaw by publishing a story revealing involvement of White and Blazevich and Victor Mattiece in the death of the two Supreme Court Justices. However, for attorneys of White and Blazevich, one must pause and wonder what their fate, professionally speaking at least, would be after their lie exposes. For these attorneys commit a number of professional ethics iolations, all in an effort to get money. From the outset of their professional relationship with Victor Mattiece – the Supreme Court Judges – attorneys trip over ethics. “Sims: Advise client, research is complete – and the bench will sit much softer if Rosenberg is retired…Einstein found a link to Jensen, of all people…Advise further that the pelican should arrive here in four years…” (Grisham 340). This memo notifies F. Sims Wakefield, one of the partners supervising Mattiece’s case, who “…had no other clients. And no one client had as much to gain from a new Court as Mattiece” (Grisham 341).
This is an unethical practice of law where attorneys help their client plan a murder to financially benefit them and their client. One possible solution for this ethical dilemma could be refusal to help Victor Mattiece in finding out which Supreme Court Judges could be killed. Attorneys from White and Blazevich should think about the consequences of their actions. Better yet, Sims could make a complaint to appropriate authorities about receiving a memo from Einstein and at least free himself and other attorneys, while Mattiece and Einstein would go to jail.
The fee agreement between the firm and Mattiece also poses an ethical problem: “…Mattiece was not paying White and Blazevich its standard hourly rate…the firm has taken the case for a percentage of the harvest” (Grisham 339). Rule 1. 5(b) of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct states, “the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation” (Miller and Urisko 69). Collecting the fee up front is certainly consistent with the practices of many practical and ethical lawyers.
Unless there is a written fee agreement, and there is certainly no evidence to support the existence of one in the book, funds paid by a client at the beginning of the representation are presumed to be an advance fee payment. Advance fees, of course, must be deposited into a trust account, and withdrawn only when earned. Retainers aren’t usually “…ten percent of the net profits from the wells,” and real lawyers must know the requirement (Grisham 339). One of the solutions to this ethical dilemma could be to sign a retainer. If White and Blazevich attorneys want money, why wait?
Let Mattiece sign a retainer, pay them, and wait for Court’s decision. Nathaniel Jones (also known as Einstein), Jarreld Schwabe, Marty Velmano, and F. Sims Wakefield are all relying on being paid for their services after the decision on the case. They could save a lot of money and avoid jail if they would follow standard Model Rules. Just because F. Sims Wakefield “…was very close to Victor Mattiece and often visited him in the Bahamas,” it is not an exception to conflict-of-interest situations. Even if Victor Mattiece is a friend of F.
Sims Wakefield, he should pay for services rendered, or the attorney could refuse to provide services knowing that there could be a conflict-of-interest. The most serious of White and Blazevich attorney’s professional ethics dilemmas is one that few lawyers ever face. In the book, the attorneys do not tell anyone about Mattiece’s plan to execute the two Supreme Court Judges. The Model Rules state that “an attorney is allowed to reveal a client’s information to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm” (Miller and Urisko 99). Attorneys’ decision to hide Mattiece’s plan is good for a book, but is it professional?
This is unethical. Instead of following along with Mattiece’s plan to find a way to win his case in the Supreme Court of the United States, the attorneys could refuse to assist him in his killings plan. If Mattiece’s threat to kill does not seem to result in certain death or cause serious bodily injury, White and Blazevich they could continue representing the client without revealing any confidential information and not jeopardizing their careers. Another ethical dilemma that White and Blazevich firm faces actually leads to their indictment later, involves confidentiality agreement between the client and the firm.
A file or a document sitting on your desk, if observed by a third party, may reveal an identity of a client or enough information to suggest the client’s identity” (Miller and Urisko 102). If there is no disruption on Wakefield’s desk and secretaries are not in and out every second, Curtis Morgan, who finds the compromising memo, would not take the memo by accident. “Finally, after waiting fifteen minutes, Morgan picked up his files and documents from Wakefield’s cluttered desk, and left…as he reached for a file, he found a handwritten memo on the bottom of the stack of documents he had just brought to his office.
He had inadvertently taken it from Wakefield’s desk” (Grisham 340). This ethical dilemma could be avoided if Wakefield would not let secretaries go through his office back and forth, or let anyone put folders, files, or documents on his desk while there are other notes or documents there. If Wakefield is on the phone, he should let everyone know not to bother him. If someone comes into his office to ask to review something, he should tell them to come back. Don’t let that person mix his files with the files that he has on his desk. Unluckily for attorneys and client, lies reveal at the end of the book.
Indeed, as the book wraps up, Velmano, Schwabe, and Einstein get indicted. Wakefield commits suicide and Mattiece also gets indicted. However, they do not get such punishment without being responsible for the killing of innocent people along the way. They go through all this trouble just so that they would get financial reward. Too bad for them, their plan fails.
Works Cited: Grisham, John. The Pelican Brief. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print. Miller, Roger LeRoy. , and Mary S. Urisko. Paralegal Today: The Essentials. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.