What’s a lawyer’s worst nightmare? Well, we’ve all awoke in a cold sweat at 3 am and wondered if we had missed a deadline, but near the top is the possibility that all our clients’ confidential information and our confidential and privileged communications with them become public. If we left our office doors and file room inadequately secured and someone extracted our paper files and printed them, we would lose our client’s trust and potential clients would think twice before engaging us.
Now, think what this might mean if a firm represents high profile clients in controversial matters that stir emotions, and the person or persons mucking with the firm’s files is highly motivated, sophisticated, and infamous. However, instead of just paper files, the intruder obtained all the firm’s e-mails and other electronic records. Such is the plight of the law firm of Puckett and Faraj, PC; a multi-office firm specializing in military defense. One of their highest profile clients, Marine Frank Wuterich, was involved in the much publicized incident in Haditha, Iraq in 2005 in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed. Mr. Wuterich plead guilty to dereliction of duty and his worst penalty could be his demotion to the rank of Private without other significant penalty.
In early February, without warning, the hacktivist group that goes by “Anonymous” hacked into Puckett and Faraj’s website, defaced it and left behind a headline that read: “ANONYMOUS HACKS PUCKETT & FARAJ – EXPOSES 3GB OF PRIVATE EMAILS DETAILING SSGT FRANK WUTERICH WHO MURDERED DOZENS OF UNARMED IRAQI CIVILIANS AT HADITHA”. You can see the entirety of the screen grab here. Anonymous also stole a large number of e-mails, trial exhibits and other confidential information that related to Mr. Wuterich but also to a large number of other clients. Anonymous has made the information available on Pirate Bay. Gawker has reviewed a small part of the information provided and has found embarrassing and sensitive material relating to defendants and persons unaffiliated with Mr. Wuterich, including the identity of some sexual assault victims.
Now, regardless of politics, views on the Iraq war or what a person may believe would be adequate justice for Mr. Wuterich, one of the most honored notions of our society is that everybody should be afforded the opportunity for an adequate defense and that attorneys that provide such defenses are performing a useful societal function. To be swept up in a broad brushed approach to retaliating against perceived injustices and perhaps having their reputation, firm and livelihoods decimated, seems to be undue punishment for such deeds. Also, for other people to have embarrassing and sensitive information divulged is perhaps unintended but nonetheless most unfortunate.