Opinion 94-12
(July 1994)

You have asked this Committee for an opinion on the following facts: While in a law partnership with A, (the partnership having since dissolved), your firm represented a minor through her mother as natural guardian, in a personal injury action. The settlement proceeds, pursuant to court order were placed in a bank account, the funds not to be withdrawn until the minor reached 18 which will occur next month. You have been contacted by A, as well as by the minor's mother, and also received a letter from the minor's mother requesting that you turn the case file, Court orders and possession of the monies, presently held in a money market account in an FDIC insured bank, over to A.

You are concerned that the minor's mother will be attempting to keep the funds from her child until the child is twenty-one. You are not sure that this is legal, and if it is not, you indicate you feel aiding an illegal act is unethical.

Whether or not the client and/or A are engaged in or trying to engage in illegal conduct is a question of substantive law that is beyond the scope of what this Committee will address. Our charge is limited to addressing the ethical implications of an inquiry.

Clearly, the legal representative of the minor is the mother, and having been requested by both her and A to turn over the file and other documents over to A, Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct l.l6d obligates you to do so immediately, there being no lien that you are asserting on the file. However, as the minor is about to attain her majority, and clearly she is also the client in this case, it would be completely appropriate to advise the minor at this time of her mother's and A's request and your compliance with it, in accord with Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4, which addresses an attorney's obligation to communicate about a matter with a client. Finally, if you decide that the conduct is illegal, or after examining all the facts about this matter that you have, and any other facts that you may discover upon further investigation, you have a strong belief that the conduct might be illegal, you are free to notify the Judge who originally ordered the formation of the trust account, of A's and the minor's mother's request and your compliance with it.

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.