Collins conceded that it’s possible something other than a mechanical malfunction may have brought down the plane – for instance a failed hijacking or pilot suicide – but claimed what little evidence there was about the plane’s extended flight without contact didn’t line up with other popular theories.
Attorney Bob Clifford, whose firm Clifford Law has represented the families of victims in domestic air crashes for decades and is a competitor of Kelly’s, told ABC News he was critical of Kelly’s petition from the start.
“I didn’t think that it comported with the law, but more importantly, I thought it was one of those things that does not serve the families well because it gives them the false hope of believing there’s a meritorious claim when I don’t think the evidence supported that,” Clifford said. “These are the kinds of filings that make lawyers look bad.”
Collins disagreed, saying that it’s a lawyer’s duty to try and recover what he or she can for them.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to say to the person, ‘I will try,’” Collins said. “If a client comes to you with a problem, you have to be truthful with them, but it’s not improper to try.”
Prior to the ethics complaint, ABC News reported in late March, Kelly’s firm, Ribbeck Law Chartered, had been aggressively distributing cards and brochures in Chinese to family members of the passengers – a practice that legal experts said would be illegal in the U.S. due to laws designed to protect families at vulnerable times. The ethics complaint does not mention this purported practice.
Caesar Sun, a volunteer grief counselor in Beijing, told ABC News in March about the experience of one family member.
"He told me that a lawyer came to him and said, 'You can get a million dollars if the plane was confirmed as crashed. And you have to let us do it... Sign something so we can do it for you,'" Sun said.
The Ribbeck firm lists its address in a Chicago high-rise, but in March the offices appeared to be empty, supposedly being remodeled, as first reported by The Chicago Tribune.
At the time Kelly denied that any of her lawyers had contacted families directly and said that while her firm had signed up dozens of families, all of them had asked her to represent them.
"It's up to the families," Kelly told ABC News then. "It is ethical and moral.”
Today Collins reiterated Kelly’s claim that her actions in southeast Asia were above board, saying that all major law firms have ways to reach out to potential clients and in the case of international incidents, American lawyers often “make arrangements” with local attorneys.
Clifford said that until the remains of the crash are discovered, or new evidence is presented, it will be difficult for the families of victims to claim wrongdoing in American courts. If the plane is never found, Clifford said he could foresee a case to be eventually made against the airline, but it’s difficult:
“Basically, ‘My father got on your plane and he was alive. He’s now been declared dead and the last person to be in control of his safety was you,’” he said. “I think you’re going to see those fights.”
An official at the ARDC said that if wrongdoing on an attorney’s part is found during trial, disciplinary action could follow in the form of reprimands, censure, suspensions, or in the most extreme cases, disbarment. The ARDC website shows a pre-hearing conference for Kelly’s case is scheduled for Aug. 26.
Christine Negroni, author of “Deadly Departure,” is a freelance reporter contributing to ABC News.