Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘stores about real-life private detectives’

Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 6, 2014

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”~ Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

Note to Readers: Several years ago, Colleen wrote a monthly column, “P.I. Confidential,” for Novelists, Inc., a community of writers who write novel-length commercial fiction. At the end of each article, she would answer questions writers had sent in — below is her response to a question about P.I.s having romantic dalliances with their clients.

fedora black and white

Writer’s Question: Are there any legal restrictions on a P.I. getting involved with a client, the subject of an investigation, a fellow P.I., or a law enforcement officer who’s involved in the same case? If not, are there generally accepted ethical guidelines or is it totally up to the P.I.’s own judgment? How about any lawsuits arising out of these kinds of relationships?

Answer: It’s certainly popular in film and books for a P.I. to get involved with a client. It’s not uncommon in real life, either. In our community, there’s a high-profile P.I. who became romantically involved with a woman who’d hired him to be her bodyguard–years later, they’re still happily together.

Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones to consider in the relationships mentioned. As to lawsuits, none appear in online sources; however, that doesn’t mean none exist. (Note: This was based on research in May 2011).

Involvement with a Client

Attorneys, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, there is no legal proscription forbidding a P.I. getting involved with a client.

That said, there are a pile of reasons why a P.I. should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients, a key one being the P.I.’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire P.I.s to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

If a P.I. is hired through an attorney, the P.I. is an agent of that law firm, and the P.I.’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. Therefore, if a P.I. were to get involved with a client, that attorney is on the hook for negligent supervision. For example, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the P.I.’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license. Horrible scenario in real-life, juicy for fiction.

Involvement with the Subject of an Investigation

Let’s look at a few examples of what might be construed as a “romantic involvement”:

  • Taking the subject out to dinner
  • Weekend trips
  • Buying presents.

In the eyes of the law, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself. In other words, if it looks like a fish, then it smells like a fish.

In a worse-case scenario, if police or opposing counsel learned that a P.I. was romantically involved with the subject of an investigation, it’s conceivable that the P.I. might be charged with tampering with a witness, improper influence or bribery. What if it was truly an innocent get-together, just an interview over dinner, nothing more? Sorry, a qualified P.I. should know appearances count. Again, this scenario offers ample fodder for fiction.

Let’s say the P.I. has become romantically linked to the subject of an investigation, and the romance goes south. A heartbroken witness might report a P.I.’s “misconduct” to authorities, maybe concoct a few heinous details (there’s no fury like a scorned lover). The P.I. could be publicly skewered by the local media and by opposing counsel in open court, and let us not forget the far-reaching impact of blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn…

Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer

If a P.I. and police officer, who are intimately involved, are on different sides of a case, and they share–or even appear to share–case information, it can undermine a legal proceeding. For example, a convicted person is sitting, and stewing, in prison…then one day he learns that the D.A.’s detective in his case, and the P.I. the convicted man’s family hired, were lovers. Convict rings up his attorney, who files a motion for a new trial, claiming the P.I. shared investigative information and strategy with the other side of the case. Guess what? The conviction could easily be overturned.

Involvement with a Fellow P.I.

Yours truly eloped with her P.I.-business partner, so she well understands this scenario. First, let’s look at it this way: It’s not uncommon for professional peers–whether they’re P.I.s, cops, lawyers, or stockbrokers–to get involved. However, an ethical dilemma could arise if the P.I.s are working opposite sides of a case (see “Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer,” above).

A by-product of a P.I.-P.I. relationship is the absolute unpredictability of each partner’s schedule. With one cell phone call, a candlelit dinner can turn into a moonlight surveillance. If they’re both working the same case, no ethical problems there…as long as both P.I.s keep their eyes on the target, not the moon…or each other.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Staying Legal in a Shady Business: When PIs Are Asked to Break the Law

Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2013

fedora black and whiteCan You Break the Law for Me?

Can’t tell you how many times a potential client will call and ask us to do something blatantly illegal.  We’ve had requests asking us to “put some muscle” on someone who’d confiscated a car (a Ferrari, mind you) to putting a GPS on a vehicle the person doesn’t own to downloading listening software on a person’s cell phone.  We’ve politely explained that unlike Tony Soprano, we don’t do muscle and we’re not into committing felonies.  In the latter two examples (illegally latching GPS trackers on cars and wiretapping phones) we tell the caller that if he/she decides to do that on their own, they’ll be up on felony charges if they’re caught.

Wiretapping & Cell Phone Spyware

More people have smart phones these days, but “back in the day” (not so many years ago), most of us were using cell phones.  Remember them?  I now think of them as stand-alone cell phones.

It was interesting how many ads were out there (magazines, Internet) for cellphone spyware that a buyer could download on someone’s cell phone and listen to (and track) all their conversations.  No mention that the product was inviting people to commit wiretapping, a federal offense and a state crime (both felonies).  Some spyware also allowed the listener to hear conversations that occurred in the vicinity of the phone, even when it was turned off.

We had callers say, “But they claim their product is legal in the ads!”  No, they didn’t claim their product was legal, but they sure

gavel and scalesmade it sound that way.

Committing Burglary and Theft

Probably our most uncomfortable request came from a lawyer, whose name we won’t mention.  He asked us to enter a home to take something from it under a false pretense.  We reminded the lawyer that the law calls those actions burglary and theft. His response?  “Well, use your own judgement.”

We did.  We turned down the case.

Using Shady Business in Fiction

But let’s turn this around to writing fiction–imagine how it bumps up the stakes and tension if a fictional sleuth, knowing he/she is committing a felony, does it anyway.  They illegally track with a GPS, knowing the consequences if they get caught, but they’re doing it for a compelling reason (to save a child, for example).  Adds complexity and tension to the story, doesn’t it?  Or they go into the gray zone and purchase that illegal cell phone software as a last means to track a killer.  As a writer, knowing what’s legal or not for your protagonist sleuth helps you crank up the stakes.  Plus it adds plausibility.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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