Crash of Flight 5191

Ad flap prompts law panel’s investigation

The Kentucky Bar Association named a special task force yesterday to look into complaints of improper conduct by lawyers who put ads in the Herald-Leader on Wednesday to make contact with families of Comair Flight 5191 crash victims.

The three-member task force -- thought to be the first of its kind ever appointed by the bar -- also will investigate any other complaints about the conduct of lawyers in connection with the crash.

After an accident, direct contact with victims’ families is prohibited for 30 days by state law and for 45 days by federal law, but it is not clear whether the laws prohibit advertising, said Bruce K. Davis, the bar association’s executive director.

The three ads published on Wednesday were later determined to violate other bar association advertising rules and were pulled from Thursday’s editions.

“If these ads are done correctly, they still may be permissible later on,” Davis said in an interview. “But after some time has passed by, hopefully, it won’t inflame the public like this has.”

Meanwhile, the board of the Fayette County Bar Association said in a statement that “none of the advertising was done by any member of the local bar association.”

The board also sent a letter to the editor of the Herald-Leader, saying local lawyers “share the disgust and dismay” of many Lexingtonians who saw the ads.

“The advertisements were offensive and outside any common bounds of decency and could not be more inappropriate while the families, friends, and this community are still grieving,” the board said in the letter.

The board noted that one of the local bar’s longtime members, Leslie W. Morris II, and his wife, Kaye Craig Morris, were killed in the crash.

The members of the Kentucky Bar Association task force are retired Fayette Circuit Judge John Adams, Scott Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs and Prestonsburg attorney John Rosenberg, who is a member of the association’s board of governors.

No member of the task force or any lawyer associated with the members can be involved in any cases related to the crash.

Davis said the state bar has received a few calls and e-mails about lawyer conduct, but no formal complaints have been filed. Such complaints would be confidential until they are investigated, he said.

It is a Class A misdemeanor under state law for a lawyer or a lawyer referral service to directly contact a victim or a relative of a victim of a disaster for 30 days following a disaster.

But “over the years we have heard horror stories (of improper contact), not only when something like this happens, but when there’s even a single-vehicle accident.”

In one accident, an out-of-state firm identifying itself as “a grief counseling business” contacted an accident victim’s family and “once they got their foot in the door, they told them they had an attorney they wanted to refer them to.”

To report violations, call Davis at (502) 564-3795 or e-mail him at bdavis@kybar.org.

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