Defense attorneys concerned about ads mailed to defendants

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah defense attorneys say advertising mailers that try to recruit the business of defendants are raising privacy and ethical concerns.

Attorneys and third-party firms use the state’s online court database to look for names and addresses of potential clients, according to the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Executive Director Kent Hart said defense attorneys are debating whether these sorts of ads are ethical, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“Some of these letters do seem to be inducing some alarm,” he said. “So the concern for the letters is, if it’s just a letter, then that may be OK. But (there are) letters that are kind of saying things like, ‘You better act fast’ and ‘You better do it now.’ “

Salt Lake City defense attorney Jonathan Jemming said the letters and ads aren’t helping but instead causing fear and confusion for people facing criminal charges.

“They are getting flooded with sometimes frightening mailers that are scaring them,” said Jemming. He said some the letters have a threatening tone and pit lawyers against each other.

“It creates tension between the party and their existing attorney and manipulates them into making that call,” he said.

He said the mail could also raise privacy issues if found by a family member, landlord or business associate.

Criminal charges, however, are available to the public under state law, along with the name and address of the person charged, and Utah Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said the court doesn’t put restrictions on the information being used for business purposes.

The Utah Judicial Council states that lawyers cannot solicit potential clients in-person, via telephone or by real-time electronic contact.

It does, however, allow lawyers to send ads through the mail or in an email. The mailer must clearly identify itself as an ad and can’t involve “coercion, duress or harassment.”

Hart said his concern is mostly about third-party companies that send mailers to recruit clients for attorneys. Those companies aren’t required to follow the same rules as attorneys and can confront people in person or send questionable letters.

One mailer that listed the phone number of Salt Lake City-based company Outlaw Legal Services warned recipients of a “potential problem with your case” and said that “your defense may be jeopardized with the wrong attorney.”

That company did not return multiple phone calls from The Salt Lake Tribune seeking comment.