Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Appeal Dismissed: Dissent Contends Dismissal Encourages Discovery Violations Against Law School Clinic Clients
The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal and, according to a dissent, endorsed the proposition that fees for discovery violations cannot be awarded to law school clinics as such clinics charge no fees to their clients.
Justice Pfeifer's dissent
As can happen, something we said in one context, where it made sense, is being applied in another context, where it does not. In State ex rel. Citizens for Open, Responsive & Accountable Govt. v. Register, 116 Ohio St.3d 88, 2007-Ohio-5542, 876 N.E.2d 913, we stated that “an award of attorney fees as a sanction for a discovery violation must actually be incurred by the party seeking the award.” In that case, there was an ongoing dispute involving compensated attorneys, and an award of attorney fees made sense only if additional fees had actually been incurred. Nothing in that opinion suggests that we were deciding the issue with respect to every situation involving discovery sanctions that might possibly arise in Ohio.
Legal services can be rendered in Ohio by legal interns, including, as here, those working for a law-school clinic. Gov.Bar R. II. In that special context, legal fees are not allowed. Gov.Bar R. II(6) (“A legal intern shall not ask for or receive any compensation or remuneration of any kind from a financially needy client * * *.”)
The lower court’s opinion, as allowed to stand, holds that discovery sanctions can never be granted when the prevailing party is represented by a law-school clinic because attorney fees cannot be incurred by a clinic’s client. Such a conclusion reads too much into Register, an opinion that had nothing to do with law-school clinics and legal interns. Moreover, the holding allows parties to commit discovery violations with some level of impunity. It is also contrary to Gov.Bar R. II(6), which states that a law-school clinic “may be awarded attorney fees for services rendered by the legal intern consistent with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and as provided by law.” Attorney fees as sanctions for discovery violations are attorney fees “provided by law.”
By dismissing the appeal as improvidently accepted, this court is implicitly endorsing a decision that allows attorneys opposing law-school clinics to commit discovery violations without fear of economic sanctions, subverting Gov.Bar R. II(6), and devaluing the efforts of hundreds of legal interns and licensed attorneys who provide pro bono legal services throughout this state.
I would reach the merits of the case before us and reverse the judgment of the court of appeals. I dissent.
Justices French and O'Neill joined the dissent. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, January 15, 2015
The Florida Supreme Court has approved an ethics opinion dealing with whether providing medicaid advice violates prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law
the Florida Bar Elder Law Section’s Unlicensed Practice of Law Subcommittee petitioned the Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on the Unlicensed Practice of Law (Standing Committee) for an advisory opinion on whether it constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for a nonlawyer to engage in the following Medicaid planning activities leading up to the Medicaid application: (1) drafting of personal service contracts; (2) preparation and execution of qualified income trusts; or (3) rendering legal advice regarding the implementation of Florida law to obtain Medicaid benefits.
It is the opinion of the Standing Committee that it constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for a nonlawyer to draft a personal service contract and to determine the need for, prepare, and execute a Qualified Income Trust including gathering the information necessary to complete the trust. Moreover, a nonlawyer should not be authorized to sell personal service or Qualified Income Trust forms or kits in the area of Medicaid planning.
It is also the opinion of the Standing Committee that it constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for a nonlawyer to render legal advice regarding the implementation of Florida law to obtain Medicaid benefits. This includes advising an individual on the appropriate legal strategies available for spending down and restructuring assets and the need for a personal service contract or Qualified Income Trust.
It is the position of the Standing Committee that a nonlawyer’s preparation of the Medicaid application itself would not constitute the unlicensed practice of law as it is authorized by federal law. As noted earlier, it is also not the unlicensed practice of law for DCF staff to tell Medicaid applicants about Medicaid trusts and other eligibility laws and policies governing the structuring of income and assets when relevant to the applicant’s facts and financial situation.
The court order states that the inquiry was a result of activities of the Forida Department of Children and Families.
The opinion has the force and effect of the court's orders. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, January 9, 2015
The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law - the brainchild of my colleagues Mitt Regan and Jeff Bauman - has just issued it 2015 report on the State of the Legal Market.
From the introduction
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once explained the secret to success in his sport by noting that "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."
Gretzky's observation has often been cited for its obvious relevance to the process of business strategy, and it seems particularly apt for law firm leaders in the current environment. In the six and a half years since then onset of the Great Recession, the market for legal services has changed in fundamental -- and probably irreversible -- ways. Perhaps of greatest significance has been the rapid shift from a sellers' to a buyers' market, one in which clients have assumed control of all of the fundamental decisions about how legal services are delivered and have insisted on increased efficiency, predictability, and cost effectiveness in the delivery of the services they purchase. This shift in the dynamics of the market, coupled with at best modest growth in the demand for legal services, the decision of many corporate clients to shift more legal work in-house, the growing willingness of clients to disaggregate services among many different service providers, and the growth in market share of non-traditional competitors, have all combined to produce a much more intensely competitive market for legal services than existed prior to 2008.
Over the past five years, law firms have responded to these market changes in a variety of ways. They have become more adept at responding to RFPs and participating in competitive selection processes; they have become more proficient indeveloping and working under project budgets and in responding to client demands for alternative fee arrangements and they have begun to develop project management capabilities as well as the skills needed to partner with other providers in disaggregated service settings. For the most part, however, these changes have been in response to specific client pressures. They have not generally resulted from law firms themselves taking a longer range view of the changes impacting the legal market and restructuring their services to meet likely client expectations in the future. In other words, to use the Wayne Gretzky metaphor, they represent playing where the puck is and not where it is going to be
Congrats to Mitt and Jeff and the center's staff for their thought-provoking work (Mike Frisch)
Friday, September 26, 2014
An unauthorized practice decision of the Ohio Supreme Court is described by Kathleen Maloney
A Lorain County non-lawyer and his corporation engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by providing legal advice to individuals facing criminal charges, according to an Ohio Supreme Court decision today.
The court directed King Ayettey Zubaidah and STAND, Inc., to stop practicing law and ordered them to pay a civil penalty of $20,000 for their involvement in four legal matters.
Zubaidah formed STAND (Striving Towards a New Day!) in 2008 after his experience with the justice system in the 1980s when he was convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to five years probation. STAND’s mission was “to help change the unfair and partial treatment against minorities in the judicial system.”
In each of the four cases brought before the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL), the defendant or a parent of the defendant asked for Zubaidah’s guidance during the criminal case and signed an agreement with STAND, which stated that the organization would assist them. No payment was required. Family members testified that Zubaidah did not claim to be an attorney and they knew he was not one.
In one matter, Isaiah Harris faced several charges in three different cases in 2008 involving the same victim. The court appointed a lawyer to represent him. Harris also signed an agreement with STAND.
The three cases were combined, and before Harris’ trial Zubaidah sent a letter to the judge indicating he had in-depth knowledge about the facts in the case and defending Harris’ actions.
In the midst of trial, Harris’ lawyer negotiated a plea deal for a four-year prison term. Zubaidah attended the trial, but his involvement was disputed. Harris’ lawyer claimed that Zubaidah advised Harris not to accept the deal. Harris rejected the offer and was later convicted and sentenced to 23 years, 6 months in prison.
In the other cases, Zubaidah sent letters to the judges asking for lower bonds, citing cases, and making legal arguments, though indicating that he was not an attorney.
In today’s per curiam opinion, the court noted that an individual who negotiates legal claims for another person and provides legal advice – even without charge and even when stating that he is not an attorney – is practicing law.
While a non-attorney who sends a character-reference letter for someone to a judge is not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, the court stated that when a letter shifts to advocating specific legal positions for that person, the unauthorized practice of law occurs.
“[D]espite the laudable desire to seek reform in the criminal system, such a desire cannot be realized by legally advising and advocating on behalf of a criminal defendant without violating our prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law,” the opinion stated.
“Zubaidah’s actions extended beyond the permissible conduct of endorsing a person’s character, advocating a social issue generally, advancing personal interests, or providing nonlegal advice to a family member. Despite Zubaidah’s good intentions and intermittent disclaimers, his conduct shows a pattern of advocating legal positions on behalf of defendants and providing legal advice to those defendants, leading to serious consequences for the STAND clients who trusted him.”
The court pointed out that Zubaidah held himself out as “an advocate with legal expertise,” his agreements implied that he had specialized knowledge of the legal system, and his letters to judges “cited case law, raised legal issues, and asked for legal results.”
Adopting the UPL board’s recommendation, the court determined that a $5,000 penalty for each violation was reasonable.
The court’s majority included Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French. Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill concurred in part and dissented in part.
While Justices Pfeifer and O’Neill agree that Zubaidah engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, they would instead impose $1,000 for each violation, for a total penalty of $4,000.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
The New Jersey Supreme Court has reversed an opinion of the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics that had ruled it an impermissible conflict of interest for pro bono participants in the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice program to provide legal services in bankruptcy matters where their firm (Lowenstein Sandler) represents creditors in unrelated matters.
VLJ’s pro bono bankruptcy program does not present a conflict of interest under RPC1.7. With appropriate safeguards, a volunteer attorney can represent a low-income debtor in a no-asset Chapter 7 bankruptcy matter even if the attorney’s firm represents one or more of the debtor’s creditors in unrelated matters.
The unanimous court found that the public policy in favor of pro bono services "informed" its decision. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The Georgetown Law web page has this post on the new book by Tanina Rostain and Mitt Regan
In their new book Confidence Games: Lawyers, Accountants, and the Tax Shelter Industry (MIT Press, 2014), Professors Tanina Rostain and Milton C. Regan Jr. describe the rise and fall of the tax shelter industry, the professional misconduct that allowed it to flourish and the ultimately successful government efforts to subdue it.
Rostain and Regan set the stage for this development — the boom years at the turn of the 21st century and the raft of complex tax shelters developed by such accounting firms as KPMG and Ernst & Young — and the hobbled Internal Revenue Service that struggled to keep up with it. The authors acknowledge that individual wrongdoers were at fault, but they also probe the organizational causes and the responsibility of the tax adviser: “If the lawyer fosters the perception that other taxpayers lack a sense of civic obligation, she can lead the client to adopt a similar attitude in self-defense.”
“Confidence Games is a lively and deeply informed human story,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning tax journalist David Cay Johnston. “… Rostain and Regan give readers a solid primer, translating arcane principles of accounting. Then they add a human touch with telling details mined from a public record few others have explored.”
Claire Hill, Professor and James L. Krusemark Chair in Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, says, “This book manages what many might think impossible: it’s a page-turner about tax."
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
The civil claims of an associate attorney against her former firm may proceed in some respects, according to a decision issued today by the New York Appellate Dvision for the First Judicial Department.
In January 2008, plaintiff Ji Sun Jennifer Kim was hired as an associate attorney in the tax certiorari department of defendant law firm Goldberg, Weprin, Finkel, Goldstein, LLP. In January 2009, plaintiff learned she was expecting a child and informed the law firm of her pregnancy. In June 2009, while visibly pregnant, plaintiff was reprimanded by a partner at the law firm for allegedly reading a book during work hours. According to plaintiff, the partner stood extremely close and screamed at her, causing plaintiff to fear that she would be hit.
Plaintiff promptly emailed a complaint about the incident to defendants Arnold Mazel and Barry Zweigbaum, both partners in the law firm. In that complaint, plaintiff alleged that two other attorneys, both male, were engaging in similar behavior at the same time but were not admonished. Plaintiff's email expressed concern that she was singled out and treated unfairly due to her pregnancy. Defendant Andrew Albstein, the law firm's managing partner, wrote an email to plaintiff reiterating that reading a book during work hours was inappropriate, and denying that plaintiff was reprimanded due to her pregnancy. Plaintiff also alleges that Mazel told her that she made her situation worse by complaining.
In September 2009, plaintiff took 12 weeks' maternity leave. Upon her return to work in December 2009, plaintiff began to express breast milk at the office. At some point in February 2010, Zweigbaum, within earshot of plaintiff, is alleged to have made an inappropriate gender-based comment. The next day, plaintiff complained to Zweigbaum and another partner about the offensive remark. Plaintiff alleges that after she complained, Zweigbaum barely spoke to her.
At around the same time, plaintiff asked if she could work a reduced schedule so she could take care of her baby at home, but Mazel denied the request. According to Mazel, February was the tax certiorari department's busy season, and firm policy did not allow lawyers to work a reduced work schedule. Albstein confirmed that in the previous 10 years, the law firm had never allowed any associate attorney to work part-time. In April 2010, the law firm terminated plaintiff's employment, purportedly for budgetary reasons.
The court affirmed the dismissal of claims of gender discrimination and hostile work environment.
The retaliation claim can go forward.
Law360 had this earlier report. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, May 31, 2014
The Oregon Supreme Court held that a law firm's communications with in-house counsel were protected from disclosure from the now-former client.
The court reversed an order of production based on the so-called "fiduciary exception" to the attorney-client privilege
Friday, May 16, 2014
Good news for attorneys who conduct depositions.
The dismissal of a civil action against the Paul Hastings firm was affirmed by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department
The court properly dismissed the slander per se claim because the alleged defamatory statements were made during a judicial proceeding and may be considered pertinent to that proceeding...
The court properly dismissed the claim for civil assault. The physical conduct alleged by plaintiff, which amounts to finger pointing and generalized yelling in the context of a heated deposition, is inappropriate behavior, not to be condoned, but, without more, is not the type of menacing conduct that may give rise to a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful conduct needed to state an actionable claim of assault.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
A decision today from the New York Court of Appeals
University of Chicago Professor Norman Golb is a scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This [criminal] case involves an internet campaign by Golb's son, Raphael Golb, to attack the integrity and harm the reputation of other Dead Sea Scrolls academics and scholars, while promoting the views of his father.
To accomplish his goal of discrediting and harming these individuals, defendant, using pseudonyms and impersonating real academics and scholars, sent emails to museum administrators, academics and reporters. He published anonymous blogs. He concocted an elaborate scheme in which he used a pseudonym to engage one professor in an email exchange, and then impersonated a different scholar to criticize that professor's emails. Defendant impersonated a New York University (NYU) professor and sent emails to NYU students and NYU deans indicating that the professor had plagiarized the work of Professor Golb.
The court's disposition of the criminal charges
...we affirm the convictions for nine counts of criminal impersonation in the second degree and all of the convictions for forgery. We vacate the conviction for identity theft in the second degree; five of the convictions for criminal impersonation in the second degree; all of the convictions for aggravated harassment in the second degree, and the conviction for unauthorized use of a computer.
Justice Lippman would dismiss the charges in their entirety.
It would be difficult to find the conduct by defendant detailed in the majority opinion admirable. But our very different task is to decide whether that conduct was properly treated as criminal. While I see no constitutional impediment to prosecuting conduct similar to defendant's targeting Professor Schiffman as second degree identity theft -- which requires for its proof evidence of intent to cause highly specific injury of a non-reputational sort -- the particular counts of identity theft with which defendant was charged in the indictment's top two counts were not sufficiently proved...
The use of the criminal impersonation and forgery statutes now approved amounts to an atavism at odds with the First Amendment and the free and uninhibited exchange of ideas it is meant to foster.
Extensive information concerning the case can be found at The Raphael Golb Trial web page. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, May 12, 2014
An interesting decision last week from the Georgia Supreme Court on disqualification premised on a non-attorney employee
We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly held that a conflict of interest involving a nonlawyer can be remedied by implementing proper screening measures in order to avoid disqualification of the entire law firm. For the reasons set forth below, we hold that a nonlawyer’s conflict of interest can be remedied by implementing proper screening measures so as to avoid disqualification of an entire law firm. In this particular case, we find that the screening measures implemented by the nonlawyer’s new law firm were effective and appropriate to protect against the nonlawyer’s disclosure of confidential information. However, we remand this case to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether the new law firm promptly disclosed the conflict.
The case involves a wrongful death action brought by the estate of a person who was shot and killed at an apartment complex. The paralegal was the plaintiff 's primary contact and worked on the fact investigation before moving (with an intervening stop at another job) to the firm that represented the defendant apartment complex.
The conflict was not discovered when the paralegal first moved to the defendant's firm, as suit had not yet been filed and the paralegal did not know that the firm represented the defendant.
Screening was implemented after the conflict was discovered.
The court set forth a test for disqualification under the circumstances
...the new firm will be disqualified where (1) the nonlawyer has already revealed the confidential information to lawyers or other personnel in the new firm; (2) screening would be ineffective; or (3) “the nonlawyer necessarily would be required to work [or has actually worked at the new firm] on the other side of the same or a substantially related matter on which the nonlawyer [previously] worked.”
Justice Nahmias concers but has concerns about the state of screening in Georgia
It should be noted... that this is yet another case that raises questions about whether Rule 1.10, and in particular its implicit rejection of the use of screening measures to avoid imputed disqualification of an entire law firm when one of their lawyers would be disqualified, should be reconsidered and amended or at least clarified. After all, the rules already allow the use of screening to avoid conflicts imputed from some lawyers – former government lawyers, judges, and arbitrators. See Rules 1.11 (a) and 1.12 (c). And many of the factors that the Court discusses in support of our conclusion that screening measures, rather than imputed disqualification, may be appropriate for nonlawyers also apply to many other lawyers – especially associates. In addition, we should acknowledge that, as in the rest of our economy, it is becoming far less common for lawyers and their nonlawyer assistants to remain with the same firm for an entire career, whether by choice or due to layoffs or merger and dissolution of firms. This Court can continue deciding – or avoiding deciding – the impact of Rule 1.10 on a case-by-case basis, but the process for amending the Bar Rules provides opportunities for greater and broader input from those whose interests may be affected by imputed disqualification as well as consideration of facts and circumstances beyond those presented in the record of a particular case. That seems a preferable way to address these issues.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
The Washington Court of Appeals - Division Three- has upheld a trial court determination that Washington State has jurisdiction over Texas lawyers who provide debt relief services to state residents.
[Law firm] LWG purposely advertised on the Internet to Washington residents, made service promises to Washington residents, entered into contracts with Washington residents, and received payments from Washington residents. Ms. Miller's suit relates to these activities. Having Washington as the forum state does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice, considering the type of the complaint, the convenience of the parties, and the equities involved. Based on the above, Ms. Miller met her burden to show that Washington had personal jurisdiction over LWG to avoid dismissal. The trial court properly concluded likewise.
Further, the court found that a contractual provision that required clients to submit to arbitration in Texas was not explained to the clients and was unenforcable.
Here, no attorney or attorney's representative discussed the arbitration provisions with Ms. Miller, or advised her of the rights at stake. She was not counseled or advised regarding the consequences of relinquishing the legal protections provided by Washington law or of the protections provided by Texas law. Ms. Miller was not informed of the advantages or disadvantages of arbitration, including the requirement she must bring arbitration claims in Texas. Moreover, no one explained the inconsistent and mutually exclusive venue and jurisdiction provisions. Based on existing case law and the RPCs, we, like the trial court, conclude the agreement between the parties was procedurally unconscionable. Therefore, it was void and we need not address substantive unconscionability.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Plaintiff is the Director of Security for her employer, the National Basketball Association (NBA). She commenced this action against defendants alleging, inter alia, discrimination and retaliation in violation of the State and City Human Rights Law. Defendants Geno Auriemma and James Tooley are employed, respectively, as the executive director and head coach of USA Basketball, Inc. (USAB), the national governing body for the sport of basketball. Although it is an Illinois corporation, USAB has its main headquarters in Colorado Springs. Tooley is a Colorado resident and Auriemma is a Connecticut resident. The NBA is a New York City based company and a member of the USAB. Although plaintiff resides within the state, she is not a New York City resident.
Plaintiff had expected to provide security to the Women's National Basketball team at the 2012 London Olympics and had traveled with it to the Olympics on at least two prior occasions in 2004 and 2008. In 2011, however, while she was abroad with the team, plaintiff learned that Auriemma had instructed Tooley that he did not want her at the 2012 Olympics. Plaintiff claims that Auriemma's actions were motivated by her rejection of Auriemma's inappropriate sexual advances towards her during a 2009 overseas assignment.
Plaintiff alleges that Tooley cooperated with Auriemma's request, and contacted her supervisor, James Cawley, who agreed to remove her from the 2012 London Olympics assignment. After plaintiff complained about the reassignment, the NBA investigated and found her complaint unsubstantiated. Plaintiff then commenced this action in June 2012. Subsequently, in July 2012, she learned that the NBA had decided that she would be attending the London Olympics after all.
Although she attended the Olympics, plaintiff claims that she had "significantly diminished material responsibilities" while in London. Her complaints included that she was not provided with certain security credentials that would have allowed her access to the basketball arena, she was assigned to transport guests to and from the arena, and she was told she could not sit in the bleachers at the gym while the team was practicing. Plaintiff claims these limitations were all part of Auriemma's retaliation campaign against her, in which Cawley and Tooley were complicit.
USAB, Tooley and Auriemma moved to dismiss the complaint against them. Their motions were granted on the basis that the discriminatory acts alleged took place outside of New York by nonresidents and the conduct alleged had no impact in New York. The court rejected plaintiff's argument that her place of employment was the location of the injury for purposes of evaluating where its impact was felt. Her employer and Cawley have answered the complaint. They have not moved and the order appealed from does not affect plaintiff's claims against them. We agree that the motions by non-residents USAB, Auriemma and Tooley, dismissing the Human Rights Law and collateral tort claims against then, were properly granted.
Monday, April 7, 2014
An inmate who wishes to change his name is entitled to appear in the civil matter by telephone or other means, according to a decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The court majority did not find the proposed name change should be granted.
There is a dissent
I respectfully dissent from the Court's expansion of prisoner's rights. The petitioner is a thirteen-time convicted felon serving time in prison. He has a lengthy public criminal history beginning in 1993. He already has aliases of Stacey L. Hamphill, Stacey L. Hemphil, Apokalypse Hemphill, Terrance L. Hemphill, Stacey L. Himphill, Laqua Pollard, and Ra Shabazz. Now he wants the Court to order the district court to allow him to get on the telephone and phone in his testimony which would support a legal name change to Apokalypse God Allah. With such a long criminal record and the use of so many aliases, the purpose of the petitioner's name change must be to disassociate himself with his criminal past and to fraudulently deceive the public of his criminal past, rather than for any lawful purpose. Today the Court goes to great lengths to facilitate the petitioner's quest by ignoring our prudential rules, vitiating the due process concept of notice, misapprehending the Oklahoma Constitution and this Court's cases, and usurping the district court's discretion...
This is the perfect example of the swarm of inmate recreational litigation clogging our courts.
I guess it is fortunate that this litigant was not before the Tennessee judge who changed a child's name from Messiah to Martin. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, March 29, 2014
From the web page of the District of Columbia Bar
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals seeks comments on a proposed amendment to D.C. App. R. 49 that would create an exception allowing internal counsel who have not been admitted to the D.C. Bar to provide pro bono legal services.
The Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law made the recommendation to the court on September 19, 2013, stating that these changes would help address the need to increase access to justice in the District. The amendment would permit attorneys who are members in good standing of the highest court of a state or territory and are supervised by an active D.C. Bar member to perform pro bono work in the District. The work must be assigned or referred by an organization that provides pro bono legal services to the public for free.
Written comments regarding the proposed rule amendment are due by May 20, 2014. Ten copies should be sent to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals, 430 E Street NW, Suite 209, Washington, DC 20001.
My comment --good idea. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
A recent decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court:
This case presents an issue of first impression: whether an association that has provided support for litigation, without being a named party in that litigation, has engaged in protected petitioning activities for the purposes of G.L. c. 231, § 59H. The defendant, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, appeals from a Superior Court judge's denial of its special motion to dismiss a suit by the town of Hanover (town) claiming that the defendant engaged in abuse of process in prior legal proceedings. Because we conclude that support of litigation constitutes protected petitioning activity within the meaning of G.L. c. 231, § 59H, and that here, the town did not demonstrate that the defendant's right to petition was "devoid of any reasonable factual support or any arguable basis in law," Office One, Inc. v. Lopez, 437 Mass. 113, 123 (2002), we allow the defendant's special motion to dismiss.
The case is
TOWN OF HANOVER vs. NEW ENGLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS, SJC-11396.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
A lawyer's attempt to recover unpaid fees failed in a decision affirming dismissal of the claim by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.
Except in limited circumstances, where an attorney institutes an action to recover a fee, the attorney must provide written notice by certified mail or by personal service of the client's right to elect to arbitrate and must allege in the complaint that the client received notice of his or her right to pursue arbitration and did not file a timely request to arbitrate (see 22 NYCRR 137.6). A plaintiff's failure to provide the defendant with written notice of his or her right to elect to submit the fee dispute to arbitration, and the failure to allege in the complaint that the defendant received such notice and did not file a timely request for arbitration, require dismissal of the complaint (see Herrick v Lyon, 7 AD3d 571). Here, the Supreme Court properly dismissed the complaint upon finding that the plaintiff failed to properly serve the defendant with written notice of his right to arbitrate the fee dispute, and upon the plaintiff's failure to allege in the complaint that the defendant received such notice and did not file a timely request for arbitration (see 22 NYCRR 137.6; Herrick v Lyon, 7 AD3d 571).
In addition, the Supreme Court properly found that the plaintiff failed to comply with the requirements of 22 NYCRR 1215.1 and failed to establish that he was entitled to recover legal fees in quantum meruit. Except in limited circumstances, an attorney must provide his or her client with a written letter of engagement or enter into a written retainer agreement explaining, inter alia, the scope of the legal services to be provided, the fees to be charged, and the expenses and billing practices (see 22 NYCRR 1215.1). An attorney's noncompliance with 22 NYCRR 1215.1 does not preclude him or her from recovering the value of professional services rendered on a quantum meruit basis (see Seth Rubenstein, P.C. v Ganea, 41 AD3d 54). Nonetheless, an attorney who fails to comply with rule 1215.1 bears the burden of proving the terms of the retainer and establishing that the terms of the alleged fee arrangement were fair, fully understood, and agreed to by the client (see id.). Here, the court properly found that the plaintiff failed to comply with 22 NYCRR 1215.1 and failed to establish that the terms of the fee arrangement were fair, fully understood, and agreed to by the defendant.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
A recent opinion from the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee:
Lawyers who represent clients, whether birth parents or prospective adoptive parents, in private or independent adoption proceedings in the District of Columbia must ensure their conduct conforms to the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. Private adoptions frequently give rise to a number of significant ethical obligations, not the least of which are duties arising under conflict of interest rules, that the lawyer must squarely address with his or her client or clients, often at the onset of the representation. In many instances, a lawyer will be required to obtain the informed consent of one or more clients, and in some circumstances that of former clients, regarding certain aspects of the representation, in order to commence or continue representation. Private adoption practitioners should be particularly mindful of ethical duties attendant to communications with unrepresented persons, as well as duties of confidentiality owed to both current and former clients.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
A seventeen-year-old boy, along with a group of his friends, broke into the former Ladd Center in the Town of Exeter in a search for ghosts.
It was closed in 1994 and has "no trespassing" signs posted.
Instead of finding what the court whimsically called "things that go bump in the night," the group encountered four bottles of what turned out to be sulfuric acid.
The boy was severely burned when one of the bottles broke.
He sued the State of Rhode Island on a theory of attractive nuisance. He lost at trial.
He also lost on appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, December 27, 2013
A mother convicted of negligent homicide and related offenses after one of her children drowned in a bathtub and another was severely injured appealed, claiming the the trial court erred in admitting evidence of her internet use while the children were in the tub.
The evidence showed that she was on a web page that was devoted to discussion of breast implants.
The conviction was affirmed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
WMUR9 had this report. (Mike Frisch)