In the Matter of
Robert Louis Petersen, Jr.
VSB Docket No.: 00-061-2418
THIS MATTER came before the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board (hereinafter referred to as the "Board"), sitting at the United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, on July 26, 2002, for hearing before a duly convened panel consisting of Randy Ira Bellows, Chair, presiding, and Richard J. Colten, Peter A. Dingman, Larry D. Kirksey, and W. Jefferson O'Flaherty. The Virginia State Bar (hereinafter referred to as the "Bar") was represented by Charlotte P. Hodges, Esquire, and the Respondent, Robert Louis Petersen, Jr., who was present throughout the proceedings, appeared pro se. Tracy J. Stroh, Chandler & Halasz, Registered Professional Reporters, P.O. Box 9439, Richmond, Virginia 23227 (phone number 804/730-1222), recorded the hearing after being duly sworn by the Chair. The panel was polled to determine whether any member had any business or financial interest or bias that would impair, or could be perceived to impair, his ability to hear this matter fairly and impartially. Each member, including the Chair, responded in the negative.
The Respondent appeared before the Disciplinary Board in response to certification of the matter by the Sixth District Subcommittee-Section I of the Virginia State Bar. The allegations of fact submitted to the Board by the District Subcommittee's certification are as follows:
1. At all times relevant hereto, the Respondent, Robert L. Peterson (sic) (hereinafter Peterson (sic) or Respondent) has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. Petersen was employed as senior in-house counsel in AT&T's Government Markets Division between June 1, 1995, and February 3, 1999.
3. As counsel for AT&T, Petersen was privy to privileged and confidential information about the company.
4. Petersen admitted that on or about August 1998, while he was still employed with AT&T, he anonymously disclosed company secrets to the United States Department of Defense without AT&T's knowledge or consent.
5. Petersen was asked to leave AT&T around or about December 1998.
6. On February 3, 1999, Petersen and AT&T executed a Separation Agreement which terminated Peterson's (sic) employment with AT&T.
7. The Agreement required Petersen to return all company documents to AT&T and to keep confidential all proprietary company information. The Agreement further provided that any breach by Petersen would require him to return all monies paid under the Agreement minus $1,000. In addition, AT&T reserved the right to sue Petersen for damages for breach of the Agreement.
8. Despite the Agreement, Petersen retained copies of various documents which contained and/or referred to a variety of company secrets and confidential information of AT&T's, including information relating to the fraud Petersen alleged AT&T perpetrated upon the United States Government.
9. Following his separation from AT&T, Petersen was unable to secure other employment.
10. On October 5, 1999, Petersen began a series of communications with AT&T executives threatening to reveal the confidential information contained in the documents, as well as copies of the documents themselves, which he retained in violation of the Separation Agreement, if the individuals did not help him find other employment.
11. On October 5, 1999, a letter
was sent to AT&T Chief Executive Officer C. Michael Armstrong (hereinafter
Armstrong). In the letter, Respondent wrote, "This is a request for your
help in obtaining another job because, I believe, AT&T unfairly and wrongfully
forced my resignation in February. To support the reasonableness of this request
I have enclosed several documents. I must point out that these documents, less
my resume, were sent to me this summer by AT&T's Legal Department in Washington.
Therefore, it is my belief that I may do with them anything I see fit."
12. In addition, on the evening of October 5, 1999, Petersen left a voice mail message for AT&T Vice President, Daniel Stark (hereinafter Stark). In the message, Petersen indicated that Stark should urge Armstrong to help him (Petersen) find other employment. In his message, Petersen advised, "It simply stands to reason that a few phone calls will be a lot less costly than defending against any actions I could take .... Finally, the fact that I do not intend to bring any legal action against AT&T does not mean that I may not become a witness for a third party."
13. On October 15, 1999, Petersen
left a second voice mail message for Stark in which he advised that Armstrong
and Stark had been given enough time to "decide to do what is right in this
matter." Petersen indicated that since they had not, he had released the
documents containing confidential AT&T information to his parents, his in-laws,
two attorney friends and to the CEO, General Counsel and Director of Contracts
of a former employer of his. Petersen advised that if he did not hear from Starks
(sic) by Monday, he would "contact DOD and make arrangements to
get them a copy." If he had (sic) heard from them by Tuesday,
he would contact Bob Bass at Federal Computer Weekly. He further indicated
that he would contact two New York Times reporters and the Washington
14. On October 17, 1999, Petersen
left a third voice mail message for Stark, in which Petersen indicated he was
being considered for a job with Newport News Ship Building. Petersen wanted
Armstrong to call Bill Fricks, Chairman and CEO of Newport News Ship Building,
and support him "in some form or fashion." In the message, Petersen
indicated that he had already sent copies of the confidential documents to Fricks.
15. On October 20, 1999, Petersen left Stark a fourth voice mail message, in which he stated that because AT&T officials failed to respond to his earlier messages, he would be meeting with the Department of Defense, the press and "Justice."
16. In or around December 1999, AT&T sued Respondent, alleging numerous breaches of the February 1999 Settlement Agreement.
17. On January 11, 2000, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, entered a Consent Decree of Permanent Injunction, requiring, among other things, that Petersen 1) abide by the Separation Agreement; 2) that he return all property owned by AT&T in his possession by January 14, 2000, and; 3) that he keep confidential all information he learned of or became aware of in connection with his employment by AT&T. Petersen, who represented himself in the matter signed the Consent Decree.
18. In a January 3, 2001, hearing before Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, Petersen misrepresented that following his signature on the Consent Decree he returned all documents to AT&T by January 14, 2000, and did not distribute any additional copies.
19. However, it was discovered that following January 14, 2000, Petersen still had AT&T documents in his possession, and he had, on at least two occasions following the signing of the Consent Decree, sent confidential AT&T information to third parties.
20. On one occasion subsequent to the execution of the Consent Decree, Peterson (sic) wrote a letter to a third party, and sent copies of the letter to two other third parties, in which he discussed information concerning AT&T's internal audits of its government billings operations. In that letter, Petersen disclosed information contained in at least two internal AT&T documents. In addition, Petersen again left phone messages with AT&T employees indicating he had again released confidential information to third parties.
21. On January 31, 2001, Judge Urbina found that Petersen's actions clearly violated the Court's Consent Decree, and found him in civil contempt of the Court's January 11, 2000, Consent Decree of Permanent Injunction.
The Board finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Bar established the facts alleged in the certification by the District Subcommittee. On at least six occasions, specifically in July 1998, August 1998, October 1999, December 1999, January 2000, and May 2000, the Respondent revealed a confidence or secret of his client, AT&T. In total, these confidences or secrets were revealed to as many as 35 different entities or individuals.
Further, on January 11, 2000, the Respondent and his employer entered into a Consent Decree of Permanent Injunction, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which provided, inter alia, that the Respondent return to AT&T all property and documents owned by AT&T, or in which AT&T has any direct or indirect beneficial or ownership interest in any form, including, but not limited to, files, records, memoranda, letters, computer access codes, computer programs, keys, card key passes, instruction manuals, documents, business plans and other property which he received or prepared or helped to prepare in connection with his employment at AT&T, including all replicas, duplicates, extracts, and copies thereof in his possession. Further included in the Consent Decree was the requirement that Respondent also keep secret proprietary and confidential information that he learned or became aware of in connection with his employment by AT&T, including, without limitation, (a) all technical, legal, regulatory, administrative, management, marketing, business or financial information, (b) all attorney work product and communications subject to the attorney/client or similar privilege, (c) all trade secret information, (d) all other confidential information not available to persons other than management of AT&T, and (e) any other information, the use or disclosure of which might reasonably be construed to be contrary to the interests of AT&T. Subsequently, Respondent was found to have violated the Consent Decree. By Memorandum Order of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dated July 31, 2001, it was found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Respondent had violated the Consent Decree by writing a letter to a third party and sending copies of AT&T confidential documents to two other third parties in which he discussed AT&T's internal audits of its government billing operations and disclosed information contained in at least two internal AT&T documents. These were found by the Court to be "in clear violation" of the Consent Decree. The Respondent was held in civil contempt of the Consent Decree and was sanctioned accordingly.
The Board also takes note of the fact that the Respondent has acknowledged under oath his misconduct. On November 15, 2000, the Respondent appeared before the Grievance Committee for the State Bar District No. 09A, State Bar of Texas and entered into an Agreed Judgment of Public Reprimand. This Judgment contained an admission by the Respondent that he knowingly revealed confidential information of a former client to persons other than the client, the client's representatives, or the members, associates, or employees of the Respondent's law firm. The Respondent acknowledged under oath that the finding of misconduct was "... true in every respect."
The evidence before this panel revealed that on numerous occasions, Petersen used his client's privileged and secret documents for his own self-serving motives and personal gain. See the following examples:
VSB Exhibit 2B (Letter from Respondent to C. Michael Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AT&T):
This is a request for your help in obtaining another job because, I believe, AT&T unfairly and wrongfully forced my resignation in February.
To support the reasonableness of this request I have enclosed several documents. I must point out that these documents, less my resume, were sent to me this summer by AT&T's Legal Department in Washington. Therefore, it is my belief that I may do with them anything I see fit.
VSB Exhibit 2D
(Voice Mail Message to AT&T manager from Respondent):
* * * I just returned from my mailbox and found nothing from you, Mr. Armstrong, AT&T, or some high-priced AT&T outside counsel. I was expecting at least a letter from counsel demanding return of the documents someone so stupidly sent to me this summer. I am positive that, if paid enough, counsel can some how come up with an argument that the privileges once attached to the document have not been waived. In any event, you all have had 10 days and 8 work days to decide to do what is right in this matter. And I believe that's long enough. Therefore, I have made limited distribution of the package I sent to Mr. Armstrong. One each has gone to [family members, attorney friends, and executives of a former employer.] If I do not hear from you on Monday, I will contact DOD and make arrangements to get them a copy. * * *
VSB Exhibit 2E (Voice Mail Message to AT&T manager from Respondent):
* * * I can tonight suggest a possible win-win solution for everyone. As you know, all I want, and need, is a job. * * * I believe my chances [of getting a particular job] would be enhanced if Mr. Armstrong would give Bill a call and support me in some form or fashion, even if it's just to ask for a favor. If I get rehired, of course, there will be no need for Mr. Armstrong to concern himself with my request of October 5 and its attending documents. He could just throw them in the trash can as far as I would be concerned - as far as I would care. * * *
As recently as May 27, 2002, Petersen continued to harass, threaten and attempt to intimidate his prior client and AT&T's employees.
Respondent testified several times during the course of proceedings before this Panel and showed no genuine appreciation for his wrongdoing, nor any contrition or remorse for his misconduct. When the Board inquired as to whether he thought he demonstrated any lapse in judgment, the Respondent replied in the negative - even though he admitted in the Texas judgment to having revealed the confidences of his client.
Respondent's position, in essence, is that the confidential documents came into his possession when he was no longer employed by AT&T, and any privilege that may have attached to the documents was nullified because they were transmitted to him by agents of AT&T without qualification, reservation or restriction.(1) We need not resolve the question as to whether the Respondent did in fact receive copies of these documents after his employment was terminated; however the Respondent came into possession of these documents, the Respondent was obligated to protect the confidences and secrets of his client and this obligation was not extinguished by the termination of his employment. What is clear is that the Respondent violated one of the most serious and significant concepts of an attorney-client relationship.
After reviewing the exhibits, the deposition of Nathaniel Friends (an AT&T attorney), and the testimony presented by both the Bar and the Respondent, the Board finds by clear and convincing evidence that Robert Louis Petersen, Jr. violated the following provisions:
(A) A lawyer shall not:
(1) Violate a Disciplinary Rule
or knowingly aid another to do so.
(3) Commit a crime or other deliberately
wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law.
(4) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation which reflects adversely on a lawyer's fitness to practice law.
(B) Except as provided by DR 4-101(C)
and (D), a lawyer shall not knowingly:
(1) Reveal a confidence or secret
of his client.
(2) Use a confidence or secret of
his client to the disadvantage of the client.
(3) Use a confidence or secret of his client for the advantage of himself or a third person, unless the client consents after full disclosure.
(A) A lawyer shall not present, participate
in presenting, or threaten to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely
to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.
(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law or other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client unless the client consents after consultation, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, and except as stated in paragraphs (b) and (c).
(b) A lawyer shall not use information relating to representation of a client for the advantage of the lawyer or of a third person or to the disadvantage of the client unless the client consents after consultation, except as permitted or required by Rule 1.6 or Rule 3.3.
(b) A lawyer who has formerly represented
a client in a matter or whose present or former firm has formerly represented
a client in a matter shall not thereafter:
(1) use information relating to
or gained in the course of the representation to the disadvantage of the former
client except as Rule 1.6 or Rule 3.3 would permit or require with respect to
a client, or when the information has become generally known; or
(2) reveal information relating to the representation except as Rule 1.6 or Rule 3.3 would permit or require with respect to a client.
A lawyer shall not:
(d) Knowingly disobey or advise a client to disregard a standing rule or a ruling of a tribunal made in the course of a proceeding, but the lawyer may take steps, in good faith, to test the validity of such rule or ruling.
It is professional misconduct for
a lawyer to:
(a) violate or attempt to violate
the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do
so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) commit a criminal or deliberately
wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness
or fitness as a lawyer;
(c) engage in professional conduct
involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
The Board further found that the Bar had not carried its burden of proving violations of DR 7-105 (A) and DR 7-105 (C)(5) and (C)(6), Rule 1.15 (c)(1), (2), and (4), Rule 1.16(d) and (e), Rule 2.3(b)(1) and (2) and Rule 2.3(c), Rule 3.3(d)(1) and (4), and Rule 3.4(i).
The Board, having taken into consideration all of the evidence, testimony, exhibits and argument, found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the above-referenced violations have been committed by the Respondent, Robert Louis Petersen, Jr. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the license to practice law in the Courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia heretofore issued to Robert Louis Petersen, Jr. be and the same is hereby REVOKED effective July 26, 2002.
It is further ORDERED that, as directed
in the Board's July 26, 2002, Summary Order in this matter, Respondent must
comply with the requirements of Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13. K(1), of
the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The time for compliance with said
requirements runs from the effective date of the Summary Order. All issues concerning
the adequacy of the notice and arrangements required by the Summary Order shall
be determined by the Board.
It is further ORDERED that Robert Louis Petersen, Jr., shall furnish true copies of all of the notice letters to persons notified of the revocation, with the original return receipts for said notice letters to the Clerk of the Disciplinary System on or before September 23, 2002.
It is further ORDERED that costs shall be assessed against the Respondent in accordance with the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13(K)(10), and the Respondent shall comply therewith.
It is further ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall send an attested copy of this Order to the Respondent, Robert Louis Petersen, Jr., at his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, 105 Ferncliff Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia 23188, by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail, and that a copy be provided by mail or hand delivery to Charlotte P. Hodges, Esquire, Assistant Bar Counsel, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219-2800.
ENTERED this ___________ day of ____________________________, 2002.
VIRGINIA STATE DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Randy Ira Bellows, First Vice Chair
1. Respondent takes this position despite the fact that he conceded during his testimony that AT&T alleged conveyance of these documents to him after his employment was terminated was a "dumb mistake."