Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in a legal malpractice case, holding that the plaintiff was collaterally estopped from litigating the issue of whether the lawyer's conduct had caused harm. The lawyer had been retained to defend a murder charge. The defendant claimed innocence. The lawyer presented a theory of self-defense to prosecutors without the client's authority and pressured him to plead to manslaughter, which he eventually did. The client got 20 years and filed the malpractice suit. About six months later, the client sought habeas corpus relif, claiming actual innocence.
A 29 day hearing was held on the petition. The trial judge concluded that the lawyer provided improper assistance, had misled the client on the terms of the plea bargain and sent the client a letter "replete with misstatements." Nonetheless, the trial judge found that the client had failed to demonstrate prejudice and was not entitled to relief.
Here, the court upheld the trial court's finding that the prejudice component of the malpractice claim was "indistinguishable" from the finding of the habeas court: "The plaintiff provides no authority and engages in no analysis demonstrating that even if the prior determination of the issue of prejudice were legally flawed, this, alone, would strip the prior determination of its preclusive effect." (Mike Frisch)