The guys who play Santa at the mall get to shed their alter egos when the stores close and they go home. Not so lawyers. Our professional responsibility obligations stay with us when we leave the office, even when we are not acting as lawyers.
Recall the story of the lawyer who was disciplined for lying about a speeding ticket. He thought it would be a good idea to claim that the police officer who issued the ticket singled him out because of his religion and used an ethnic slur. The claim made its way to Internal Affairs, which investigated. When pressed, the lawyer admitted that he had made up the story to get out of the ticket (it also didn’t help that the traffic stop was videotaped).
The fact that the lawyer was not acting as a lawyer didn’t matter to the state bar. He was found to have breached his professional responsibility obligations by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation (Rule 8.4(c)) and prejudicial to the administration of justice (Rule 8.4(d)). His license — and I don’t mean his driver’s license — was suspended for six months.
So if you happen to be playing Santa this holiday season, remember that the Rules of Professional Conduct still apply. And while I personally am not of the opinion that claiming to be Santa rises to the level dishonesty, fraud, etc., I am aware of at least one authority that holds a contrary view.