Sobol v. Marsh – 3/30/2006

April 3, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds that Complaints to the Board of Legal Document Preparers are Absolutely Privileged.

In 2004, shortly after Jerry Marsh petitioned for divorce, he was contacted by Allan Sobol. Mr. Sobol offered to assist Marsh and his wife in amicably settle their divorce. Unbeknownst to Marsh, Sobol had already been in contact with his wife, and had prepared his wife’s response to his petition for dissolution. Marsh filed a complaint against Sobol with the Better Business Bureau and the board of Legal Document Preparers, alleging that Mr. Sobol had acted unethically in failing to disclose his conflict. Sobol then filed a complaint in superior court, alleging that Marsh’s statements to the Board and the Bureau were false and defamatory. Marsh’s motion to dismiss the complaint, which claimed immunity, was granted.

The Court of Appeals held that a complaint concerning the conduct of a legal document preparer is absolutely privileged. The Court found that the analysis and legal principles in cases like¬†Drummond v. Stahl, 127 Ariz. 122, 618 P.2d 616 (App. 1980) and¬†Ashton-Blair v. Merrill, 187 Ariz. 315, 928 P.2d 1244 (App. 1997), which established an absolute privilege for a person who files a complaint with the State Bar regarding attorney conduct, applied to complaints to the Board of Legal Document Preparers. Such a privilege “promotes public policy encouraging people to report ethical violations, and furthers [a complainant’s] interest to freely and truthfully inform the Board” regarding alleged unethical conduct.

Judge Kessler authored the opinion in which Presiding Judge Barker and Judge Sult concurred.