Seventh District Committee v. Gunter

In Seventh District Committee v. Gunter, 212 Va. 278, 183 S.E.2d 713 (1971), the defendant, an attorney, was charged with malpractice and unethical and unprofessional conduct. The Seventh District Committee of the Virginia State Bar (Committee) was assigned to investigate the alleged misconduct. Gunter employed counsel to represent him at the Committee hearing to defend the allegations of malpractice and unethical and unprofessional conduct. During his strategy meetings with his attorneys, Gunter intentionally misrepresented to his attorneys a material and critical fact. Believing their client's representation, Gunter's attorneys perpetuated the misrepresentation to the Committee. Gunter was fully aware of his attorneys' intended representations and was fully apprised of their strategy. Before final resolution of the matter before the Committee, Gunter's attorneys learned of their client's misrepresentation and sought leave to withdraw. At a subsequent hearing before the Committee, after Gunter's counsel withdrew, Gunter told the Committee that he initially considered misrepresenting the facts to the Committee but that he changed his mind and was coming forward with the truth of his own volition. As a result of these developments, the Committee filed a complaint against Gunter alleging that he, for the purpose of misleading the Committee, altered, changed, and falsified a date upon a statement, which was material to the Committee's investigation of Gunter. At trial, the court admitted evidence from Gunter's attorneys detailing communications Gunter had with his attorneys which would prove that Gunter was aware of their strategy and that Gunter gave his attorneys false information knowing that the attorneys would misinform the Committee. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the evidence was admissible, finding that the "communications alleged to be privileged were made in the furtherance of the commission of an intended fraud on the Committee." 212 Va. at 288, 183 S.E.2d at 719-20. The Supreme Court stated, "'The perpetration of a fraud is outside the scope of the professional duty of an attorney and no privilege attaches to a communication and transaction between an attorney and client with respect to transactions constituting the making of a false claim or the perpetration of a fraud.'" 212 Va. at 287, 183 S.E.2d at 719. The Supreme Court of Virginia held that "the protection which the law affords to communications between attorney and client has reference to those which are legitimately and properly within the scope of a lawful employment and does not extend to communications made in contemplation of a crime, or perpetration of a fraud." Id. at 287, 183 S.E.2d at 719.