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Abstract

A recent scandal erupted in the press when a painting that was offered for sale on an Internet auction site was believed to be a lost contemporary masterpiece. The seller appeared to be a married man who was cleaning junk out of his garage, including a painting that his wife would not let him hang in the house. A bidding frenzy drove the price from the opening bid of 25 cents to more than $135,000 from a buyer in the Netherlands. After the sale was finished (it was ended by EBay when they learned he bid on the painting himself from an aliased account), the seller was identified as a California lawyer who had never been married and who had been accused the year before of selling a fraudulent painting over the Internet. Aside from any pending or future investigations into potential civil or criminal liability for that attempted sale, there are questions about appropriate responses from the legal profession itself. Specifically, how should the profession treat a seller who is licensed as a lawyer and who makes apparently false representations for private commercial gain? Should the same response be made, for example, to a lawyer who misrepresents his identity in an online chatroom? Although the particular transaction at issue here did not involve the provision of legal services to a client, are there professional ramifications for the misrepresentations made online? If an attorney uses the law firm's email or Internet system while engaging in a fraudulent or deceptive transaction, should the firm be held responsible as well for the actions of that attorney? Has the legal profession abandoned traditional ethical standards in favor of the new ethics of the Internet?

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