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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Illegality doctrine doesn't bar suit by criminal against lawyer

A plaintiff who claims bad legal advice caused him to violate U.S. criminal laws can go forward with a breach of contract claim against his lawyers, a Philadelphia judge has ruled

In the case, the plaintiffs were principals of a company that got advice from Morgan Lewis & Bockius.  They claim that bad legal advice caused them to violate U.S. trade restrictions with Cuba, and they subsequently pleaded guilty to criminal charges.  In the pleas they apparently acknowledged that they knew they were breaking the law.

The firm argued that since the plaintiffs knew they were committing a criminal offense, they could not recover against their lawyer even if the lawyer were a confederate in the scheme.  Common Pleas Judge Albert Sheppard, however, ruled that "the public interest is served where attorneys are held accountable for providing their clients with bad legal advice when those clients suffer harm as a result of that advice."

He dismissed claims of legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty as barred under the two-year statute of limitations.

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