The U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts issued a press release on May 11, 2011, stating that Massachusetts paralegal Melanie Abbruzzese has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, arising out of an alleged dating relationship with a federal postal inspector.

Abbruzzese was employed by Denner Pelligrino, LLP, a Boston-based law firm, and is accused of having a personal relationship with the postal inspector, while he was helping to prosecute the firm’s client in a criminal matter. She is also charged with lying about the nature of the relationship while under oath, per the USDOJ press release:

As stated in the indictment, it was material to the May 19, 2010 hearing that the Court determine, among other things, whether MCGONAGLE and ABBRUZZESE had any personal interactions, by phone, email, in person, or otherwise and, if so, whether during those interactions there was a breach of confidentiality.

The indictments allege that their testimony on May 19th was false, in that contrary to their testimony, they had social out-of-office and out-of-court meetings that were not of a professional nature and that they exchanged emails that were of a personal nature. In addition, the indictments allege that McGONAGLE’s and ABBRUZZESE’s false testimony at the hearing obstructed justice in that they knowingly and willfully made false and misleading declarations before a Court of the United States with intent to obstruct and impede the Court’s inquiry into the nature of their relationship. 

To add to the legal pot boiler, the firm’s client, convicted of multi-million dollar mortgage fraud and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, is seeking to have his conviction overturned due to the “secret, romantic relationship” between Abrruzzese and the postal inspector.

As also stated in the press release, “the defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.” But the potential scenarios that gave rise to these charges are well worth discussing in paralegal ethics classes.

Assuming a best case scenario, i.e. the paralegal and the postal inspector were not romantically involved while working on opposite sides of a criminal case, what kinds of behavior at work and outside of work, as well as digital communications, could land a paralegal interacting with opposing parties in this kind of a serious legal pickle – not only being investigated for possible breaches of confidentiality, but facing legal fees, prison time, and $250,000 fines?

It’s definitely something to think about.

Sources:  USDOJ; Boston Globe

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