The Norwegian Bar Association, Grievance Committee for Oppland, Buskerud, Bestfold and Telemark districts.
On 13 January 1999
Tried the case of complaint No. 36/1998 - Good lawyer's practice
Summonsed party: Lawyer Karsten Gjone
The following participated Marit Eggen
In the proceedings Gunnar A. Jahren
Certified a true copy of the original
By letter dated 30.9.1998, xxx summonsed lawyer Karsten Gjone before
the Bar Association's Grievance Committee for breach of good lawyer's practice.
The complaint was submitted to lawyer Gjone, who gave his opinion on the matter.
Facts of the case
xxx communicated with lawyer Gjone by letter dated 23.1.1998, requesting assistance in his case, after having previously received assistance from another lawyer, without the desired result being achieved. The latter lawyer was also summonsed before the Grievance Committee by the same complainant, but in another district.
The case concerned a Norwegian woman, NN, who had reported xxx in 1986 for (attempted?) rape, and who subsequently had given the press information which resulted in 3 Norwegian newspapers (VG, Bergens Tidende and Drammens Tidende) printing in 1995 stories about him, dealing with, among other matters, various forms of harassment of NN over several years. xxx did not wish to have assertions of this kind applied to himself, and what he requested assistance for in the letter to lawyer Gjone was "to get NN to answer the allegations she has been making in the newspaper articles, e.g. threats to kill her son Daniel - who was 2 years old at the time! And threats to kill the neighbours, herself, her friends, etc., etc." In addition, he wanted to sue the 3 newspapers and demand a public apology, as well as damages for himself and on behalf of the Muslim religion, as being offended via the complainant.
A large amount of written material exists, from the complainant to lawyer Gjone. Lawyer Gjone for his part, did not send any written replies to his client, but gave his advice over the telephone. The advice is reported to have been that the complainant did not have any case to pursue further within the Norwegian legal system.
Substance of the complainant's pleading:
During the 8 months that had elapsed since xxx's first letter to lawyer Gjone of 24.1.98 and until the complaint was lodged on 30 September of the same year, the complainant had not received a single written reply from the lawyer, nor were the actual tasks carried out which the complainant had asked his lawyer to perform, such as to contact a few named persons - within the police service, for example. So eight months had elapsed without anything whatsoever happening in the case - and this proves also to have resulted in it becoming too late to sue the newspapers for damages. The main point in the whole case has therefore disappeared.
The complainant states that he had a similar experience with another Norwegian lawyer, whom he also summonsed before the Grievance Committee, and on the basis of the experience he is now having with Norwegian lawyers, police, etc., he is convinced that there is a conspiracy against him here, since he writes:
"I am sick and tired of inept Norwegian lawyers and I resent having to tramp around law firms asking for someone to do a proper job. To have had nothing in 8 months is a disgrace. I know there is a cover-up, so please don't forget to find out exactly what is going on."
In addition, he writes, a further letter dated 06.11.98
"I believe that Gjone has done next to nothing. He refused my request to send him more money. Many of my telephone calls were met with the response that he was busy or in court or that he hadn't had the time to make contact with the relevant people. Delay, delay, delay and inaction. His English is poor and he is incapable of understanding the details. Gjone repeatedly told me he was "just about to write" to me - but he never did. He did FOR THE FIRST TIME tell me in late August that I could not sue the newspapers or NN. The reason with the newspapers he said was because they didn't name me - but clearly, as I have explained, he was wrong. The first thing Tor Erling Staff told me when I rang him up was to ask me if anyone I knew in Norway recognized that the articles referred to me. Yes, I told him. But then he told me there is a three-year time limit to sue - which I now had missed - May 95 to May 98, for the three articles in late May 95.
Gjone gave no reasons whatsoever as to why I could not sue NN herself. This is not the work of a competent lawyer. There was no indication at all that he had obtained the necessary information I had asked for to enable him to give that opinion."
Substance of the summonsed party's pleading:
He was asked by a colleague in January 1998 to help an English lawyer to make contact with a Norwegian woman and appraise the case against three Norwegian newspapers with claims for damages. In this connection, he received from xxx a file containing a number of documents: copies of newspaper articles and "a very large amount of correspondence, including a number of communications from xxx to individuals/organisations".
The summonsed party also writes in his reply to the complaint of 30.10 this year:
"Immediately after receipt of the documents, the client began to make telephone calls to the undersigned. He was informed that I had to spend some time on examining the material sent to me. At the same time, a number of letters began to flow in for me - as is documented, incidentally, in his complaint of 30 September this year. His innumerable communications delayed the proceedings, of course."
The summonsed party otherwise states that he contacted the people whom xxx had asked him to contact, and the information he received in these conversations was used as the basis in the advice to the client. The summonsed party goes on to write:
"The complainant alleges in his complaint that he did not receive a single reply from the undersigned. This is not correct. I have made it known repeatedly that I cannot recommend suing the abovementioned newspapers, first and foremost because none of the articles refers to him personally. I have not reported this in writing, but I have stated it clearly several times.
I have constantly appraised the factual and legal questions, so that the complainant has no 'case', either against the abovementioned newspapers or against NN.
The assignment was concluded by the complainant telephoning my office to say that he would "seek other assistance"."
The summonsed party maintains that the client was kept fully informed of the handling of the case in innumerable telephone calls, that the advice given was clear, but that the client did not wish to follow the recommendations.
The summonsed party denies that he acted in breach of good lawyer's practice, and is of the opinion that the case was "handled with reasonable speed", since the proceedings were delayed somewhat owing to the client's innumerable calls.
The Grievance Committee shall note:
The complaint was lodged within the time limit and dealt with in the usual way.
The complaint against the lawyer is considered to contain assertions of several blameworthy situations:
1. Dilatoriness during execution of the assignment
2. Absence of replies to questions
3. Failure to execute actual assignments
4. Exceeding the time limit for suing the newspapers
In general, it may be noted that communication between lawyer and complainant in this case has been rather special, in that the complainant has sent very many written requests to the lawyer during the period of the client relationship, with, in some instances, clear expression of what he wants the lawyer to do. Copies of these letters - or in any case some of them - have been sent to the Committee together with the complaint. The lawyer, on his side, has not, according to the Committee's understanding, sent anything in writing back to his client, so that all communication from his side has been verbal, over the telephone. It is therefore impossible to document the lawyer's statements in connection with the complaint.
Under the rules for good lawyer's practice, point 3.1.2., the lawyer shall take care of the client's interest "quickly, conscientiously and carefully".
The assignment given by the complainant to the summonsed party was a quite complicated task which could not be expected to be done very quickly. It seems that the complainant agreed with this at the beginning. There was a regular flow of documents from the complainant's side to the summonsed party as the case proceeded, and communication existed between the lawyer and client, even though it certainly seems as if the client has been considerably more active than the lawyer.
The Committee cannot see that the summonsed party acted in breach of the ethical rules on this point.
2. Absence of replies to questions
The complainant maintains that he has not received replies to his questions. However, the main question in this case is the one embraced by the assignment itself and the summonsed party asserts in his reply that he has given clear answers to the complainant over the telephone to the effect that the case is not a "case". This has not been documented; nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt the lawyer's statement. On the basis of the letters which the complainant has continued to send to his lawyer, it seems, however, that this viewpoint, and the advice which then followed naturally regarding not going further with the case, did not reach the client, since he was still requiring actual tasks to be carried out in the same way as he had done earlier, right up to the ending of the relationship in August. The lawyer should have reacted to this.
Since the advice not to go further was completely decisive for the relationship between lawyer and client, the summonsed party should have ensured that his advice reached its destination, by giving it in writing. If the advice not to go further with the case meant that the lawyer considered the assignment finished - and this would be the logical consequence - then this, too, should have been clarified in writing, so that there was no doubt as to whether or not a client relationship existed at all.
On this point, the Committee's view is that the summonsed party infringed the ethical rules.
3. Failure to carry out actual assignments
The lawyer states that, following a request from the client, he contacted three named persons with knowledge of the case, namely the previous lawyer, the rural policeman and a police inspector. Other requirements, such as delivering a letter in person to NN, or starting to take evidence from a number of people, were not fulfilled.
This cannot be considered to have any separate significance in the case and the summonsed party did not breach the ethical rules on this point.
4. Exceeding the time limit for suing the newspapers.
The normal time allowed for claiming damages or redress is 3 years, according to § 9 of the statute of limitations. It is difficult to know from the documents in the case whether the 3-year term expired in May 1998 - 3 years after the articles concerned were printed in the Norwegian newspapers. However, it has not been stated by the summonsed party to the Committee that this important question was considered, even though it was an essential part of the complaint. It is possible, therefore, that the time limit for litigation was exceeded without the complainant being aware of it.
The expiration of time limits which have a binding effect is serious for a party and, regardless of the summonsed party's conception of the reality of the case, this question should have been taken up directly and clearly so that it was clear that the client understood the problem and could relate to it. He did not get an opportunity to do this.
The decision is unanimous.
Lawyer Karsten Gjone acted in breach of good lawyer's practice.
[signature] [signature] [signature]
In response to my earlier complaint, Gjone had pathetically replied to the DNA that the reason he did not write to me in all that time was because I kept ringing him up and his time was taken up in speaking to me, thus preventing him from writing to me. This was a total lie. As I've explained earlier, most of the time he wasn't available when I phoned and when he was available he had little to say of any practical value. He didn't even offer the DNA a proper explanation as to why I couldn't sue my opponent Heidi Schøne.
So what is the punishment for a Norwegian lawyer completely wasting a client's time? In Gjone's case the punishment was absolutely nothing - unless you take the DNA's decision letter itself as sufficient humiliation. There was no fine for Gjone, no compensation for me. And although in Gjone's case his inaction was not sufficiently bad to warrant appearing in person before the Norwegian Bar Association's Disciplinary Committee, I discovered that in Norway they never publicly name lawyers who have been disciplined as the English Law Society Gazette regularly does. No, in Norway they print an annual report on the naughty lawyers but just refer to them by reference to a number. No naming and shaming. I wrote to the DNA's lawyer, Rune Jensen, and told him that I hoped one day the Norwegian Law Society would name and shame its errant lawyers and sent him a copy of the Law Society's Gazette, which had a section on the disciplined solicitors. However, I'll give Rune Jensen his due, he was the one who brought it to my attention for the first time that the newspapers in Norway were obliged by their self-regulating rules to contact me before going to print and get my side of the story, and once they print a story they are obliged to print the victim's point of view afterwards. Well, for the four newspaper stories on me, no-one contacted me at all. Shame on Wesenberg and Gjone and the PFU for not telling me this. Shame also on Wesenberg for not advising me of my right to complain to the PFU and of their three month time limit regarding the May 1995 stories. They just couldn't give a damn, could they?