Monday, June 29, 2015

My Two Cents

There is an interesting post with comments by Professor Stephen Gillers over at Legal Ethics Forum on civility and the recent dissents of Justice Scalia. 

For an example of what I believe is the appropriate tone of a dissent when the author perceives an injustice perpetrated by a majority of the Supreme Court, let's quote the first Justice Harlan in Plessy v. Ferguson

 I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that State, and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States. If laws of like character should be enacted in the several States of the Union, the effect would be in the highest degree mischievous. Slavery, as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race, and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens now constituting a part of the political community called the People of the United States, for whom and by whom, through representatives, our government is administered. Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by Congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

For the reasons stated, I am constrained to withhold my assent from the opinion and judgment of the majority.

Perhaps the most significant dissent in court history (and which, to its discredit, endorses the idea of the permanent supremacy of the white race) did not include any references to fortune cookies or hiding the author's head in a paper bag.

And I admit a bit of shock over the Chief Justice's references to the views of five lawyers.

Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law. The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer.

Surely he understands that every Supreme Court decision does no more than reflect the views of five or more such lawyers, whether it is Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, Shelby County, Heller or Town of Greece.

I thought he had more respect for his own institution.

I also think that these decisions show that the rule limiting criticism of judges by lawyers should be abolished. Something about sauces, gooses and ganders.

The rules that govern an attorney's ethical obligations in the conduct of litigation are quite adequate without Rule 8.2(a). (Mike Frisch)

June 29, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Juror's Lies On Voir Dire Lead To New Trial

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has vacated and remanded a conviction in a high-profile tax prosecution based on findings that a juror lied extensively about her background in order to get on the jury.

Parse and several others were indicted in 2009 and were ultimately charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and with multiple substantive counts of tax evasion and other tax-related offenses in connection with the creation of a series of tax shelters "designed and marketed by [a law firm and an accounting firm] to take advantage of Internal Revenue Code . . . loopholes so taxpayers could claim non-economic tax losses to avoid taxes they otherwise would have owed" (Parse brief on appeal at 7).

Parse was a broker employed by an investment banking firm that executed transactions for implementation of the shelters. In the spring of 2011, Parse was tried along with four of his codefendants: Paul Daugerdas and Donna Guerin, who were attorneys at the law firm; Denis Field, a member of the accounting firm; and Craig Brubaker, a broker at the investment bank that employed Parse.

He was convicted of mail fraud and attempting to interfere with the administration of the federal tax laws.

The lies included the juror concealing the fact that she was a suspended attorney. Indeed, she created a fictitious persona in order to get on the jury.

Further, she concealed the fact that she was on probation for shoplifting at the time of the trial.

As the district court later found. the juror was "a pathological liar and utterly untrustworthy."

The investigation into the juror's lies began after she wrote a post-verdict letter to the prosecutors  "praising its performance at trial but lamenting the acquittals of Parse." 

The letter was turned over to defense counsel and the court about a month after receipt.

The circuit court found no waiver based on information that the defense had at the trial

although the court stated that Parse's attorneys' "suspicion that Juror No. 1 was not the person she represented herself to be during voir dire . . . . leavened into tangible evidence that Conrad was a monstrous liar," id. at 484 (emphasis added), that leavening did not occur until Conrad sent her May Letter to the government after the verdicts were returned. It was that post verdict letter that first disclosed the juror Conrad's (claimed) street address (against which one of the addresses in the Westlaw Report could be matched) and her telephone number (against which the telephone number shown for the suspended lawyer Catherine M. Conrad on the New York attorney registration website could be matched). And the monstrosity of her deliberate and purposeful voir dire deceit came to light in her statements to the court in the hearings conducted thereafter. As Conrad had "lied about virtually every detail of her life," id. at 473, almost none of the Westlaw Report information cited by the district court about the suspended lawyer matched the information Conrad had provided under oath during voir dire. The information in that Report did not support a finding that Parse's attorneys knew that Conrad the juror was the same person as Catherine M. Conrad the suspended lawyer.

Bloomberg Business reported that the juror testified that she had lied to "make [herself] more marketable" to serve as a juror.

Bloomberg further reported on the trial court hearing

Conrad also admitted she didn’t tell the judge that her husband had been convicted of crimes including check fraud, weapons possession, harassment and burglary. He served seven years and seven months in prison for auto theft, Conrad testified.

“Your husband is a career criminal, isn’t he,” [Daugerdas attorney Chris] Gair asked Conrad.

“So are most attorneys,” she answered, prompting laughter from some in the courtroom.

The district and circuit court did not join in the laughter.

Alison Frankel at Reuters has an interesting take on the implications of this decision.

Thanks to a reader for sending the opinion. (Mike Frisch)

June 8, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Return Of the Blues

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided a divorce case involving the widow of John Belushi.

In late December, 1988, the husband, who had previously been married, and the wife, a widow, "agreed to marry and discussed that a premarital agreement was necessary to protect various assets each had acquired, including intellectual property rights they intended to exploit or continue to develop in the future and that each wanted to protect in the event of divorce, separation or death." The wife had valuable real property located in Martha's Vineyard as well as an interest in her parents' house in New Jersey. The wife also had valuable intellectual property rights, including rights she inherited from her late husband, the actor/comedian, John Belushi. While the wife had achieved some success in her own right as an author, writer, producer, and speaker, her income was derived primarily from royalties and residuals from the intellectual property rights she inherited from Belushi.

The husband is involved in the entertainment industry and, prior to the marriage, had, among other things, written, produced and co-directed a successful television miniseries, produced a concert television special, and written scripts or concepts for several full length screenplays, one of which was sold to a studio. The husband had also negotiated various business transactions regarding production, residual rights, and intellectual property and royalty payments for himself and his production company.

The great comedian may be gone but the  money stream continues

The wife stated that her right to receive the royalties and residuals, as well as her right to exploit the name and likeness of her late husband and the Blues Brothers, represent valuable assets, albeit assets that are difficult to value as it is "impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy what income stream they might generate in the future." Although there was fluctuation in the amounts of income received by the wife from her intellectual property interests, the amounts were substantial.

The court here affirmed the enforcement of the prenuptial agreement over the husband's objections and dismissed his request for sanctions. (Mike Frisch)

May 29, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mississippi Yearning

The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that an out-of-state paramour had insufficient contacts with the state to permit long-arm jurisdiction over an alienation of affections suit.

This is an alienation-of-affections lawsuit brought against a nonresident paramour over whom our courts have personal jurisdiction under the Mississippi long-arm statute. But because the paramour did not make purposeful minimum contacts with Mississippi that were sufficient to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, we reverse the circuit court’s denial of the paramour’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and we render judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint and this action for lack of personal jurisdiction over the paramour.

Phillip was married to Paige and had an affair with Francesca as well as with an unnamed fitness instructor.

Francesca could not be sued because she was under the mistaken impression that Phillip was from Tennessee

The record in this case includes no evidence whatsoever that Francesca ever purposefully made any contact—minimum or otherwise—with Mississippi. She had an affair (never in Mississippi) with a man (a) who worked in Memphis for a Memphis-based corporation; (b) whose cell phone had a Tennessee area code; (c) who sent her packages using a Tennessee return address; (d) who drove a truck with a Louisiana license plate; and (e) who asked her to meet him in “MEM” so they could disclose the affair to his wife...

It is uncontroverted that Francesca never knew of Phillip’s home in Mississippi. There is no evidence in the record to suggest that Francesca knew or should have realized her calls and texts to Phillip’s Tennessee telephone number would be received in Mississippi. And while Francesca certainly should have known her affair with a married man might break up a marriage somewhere, there is nothing in the record to suggest she knew or should have known the marriage would break up in Mississippi.

Presiding Justice Randolph disagreed and would find that Francesca's conduct was sufficiently purposeful to invoke the power of Mississippi

Were the contacts between [Francesca]... and Phillip purposeful? Yes. Were [Francesca's] contacts with a resident of Mississippi? Yes. Did the complaint allege that a tort was committed, in whole or in part, in Mississippi? Yes. Our law requires no more to exercise in personam jurisdiction, other than to conduct a due process analysis of fair play and substantial justice. Today’s outcome achieves neither...

Today’s case presents a claim of injury which arose out of and is related to communications through cell phone calls, text messages, and emails. Considering the contacts have been admitted, Paige has a right to seek redress for damages related to those contacts.

Justice Pierce joined the dissent.

Paige divorced Phillip and has moved to Texas.

This 2012 Mississippi College Law Review article  discusses the tort. David Neil McCarty correctly predicted

Recent rulings from the Mississippi Supreme Court make clear that the tort is here to stay and is evolving to meet the digital contours of the twenty-first century.

The article also favors adoption of the tort beyond  the six states that recognize the action. (Mike Frisch)

May 28, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Massey Successor Must Pay Blankenship Legal Fees

Incurred and future legal fees to defend criminal charges against former Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship must be paid by the company that acquired Massey, according to a Delaware Court of Chancery decision issued today. 

This advancement action involves some unusual facts but an all too common scenario: the termination of mandatory advancement to a former director and officer when trial is approaching and it is needed most.

Plaintiff Donald L. Blankenship is the former Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Massey Energy Company, which is now known as Alpha Appalachia Holdings, Inc. (“Massey”). Blankenship held those positions when there was a tragic explosion at a Massey subsidiary’s coal mine in West Virginia in April 2010, killing 29 miners. In June 2011, after Blankenship had retired from Massey, Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (“Alpha”) acquired Massey. For several years after the explosion, Massey and Alpha (together, the “Defendants”) honored Blankenship’s rights to advancement and paid his legal expenses relating to various civil proceedings and a federal criminal investigation that had been launched as a result of the explosion.

Alpha paid his fees until he was indicted. The decision to stop paying counsel's bills came after Alpha had sought advice from Cleary Gottlieb

In the wake of the indictment, Alpha stopped paying Blankenship’s legal fees. Alpha management, with approval from Alpha’s board of directors, then initiated a process to review the company’s indemnification and advancement obligations to Blankenship. Alpha focused on an unusual undertaking Blankenship had signed in April 2011 (the “Undertaking”), which states, in relevant part, that Massey’s indemnification and advancement obligations to Blankenship are “contingent upon [certain] factual representations and undertakings,” including a representation that, in performing his duties as a director and officer of Massey, Blankenship “had no reasonable cause to believe that [his] conduct was ever unlawful.” In late January 2015, after a process described below, Philip Cavatoni, an Alpha officer and Massey director, determined that Blankenship had breached that representation (the “Determination”). Based on the Determination, Alpha asserts that Blankenship is no longer entitled to advancement of any of his legal expenses from Massey.

Alpha must pay

Defendants must (1) advance Blankenship’s unpaid legal expenses incurred in connection with the federal criminal investigation and the Criminal Proceeding and (2) pay his reasonable expenses of litigating this action. Counsel shall confer and submit an implementing order within five business days, providing for the foregoing payments to be made within ten business days of entry of judgment.

And

Defendants have not advanced any substantive argument that the aggregate fees that have not been paid (approximately $5.8 million as of April 1, 2015) are unreasonable. Nor have they identified, in my view, any “gross problem” or other legitimate reason that would warrant injecting a special master to “perform the task of playground monitor, refereeing needless and inefficient skirmishes in the sandbox.” Disputes over the reasonableness of Blankenship’s expenses in the Criminal Proceeding can ultimately be resolved when any determination on indemnification is made

Blankenship is represented by the Zuckerman Spaeder firm. (Mike Frisch)

May 28, 2015 in Billable Hours, Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Advertising Injunction Against Law Firm Vacated

The Georgia Supreme Court has vacated a permanent injunction and remanded a case where a nursing facility had sued to enjoin a law firm's advertisement seeking potential clients against it.

The case was described in this post by Alyson Palmer of the Daily Report

As recounted in briefs for both sides, the advertisement said the government had cited a nursing facility, Heritage Healthcare of Toccoa, "for failing to assist those residents who need total help with eating/drinking, grooming and personal and oral hygiene." The ad rhetorically asked whether readers' loved ones had suffered bedsores, broken bones, unexplained injuries or death. Providing the firm's contact information, the ad invited anyone concerned that a loved one was being "neglected or abused" at the facility to call McHugh Fuller.

The day after the ad ran, the owner of the facility, PruittHealth-Toccoa, sued the law firm in the Mountain Circuit Superior Court. Beside citing Georgia legal ethics rules on advertising and contacting prospective clients, the complaint alleged the ad had violated Georgia's version of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act because it was false and misleading. The nursing home company initially requested damages but later amended its complaint to seek only injunctive relief.

Superior Court Judge B. Chan Caudell promptly granted PruittHealth's request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the law firm from running similar advertisements, then set the case for a hearing a little less than a month later.

In its defense, the firm pointed to a 2012 inspection report by the Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That report listed multiple deficiencies at the site under the heading "Assist those residents who need total help with eating/drinking, grooming and personal and oral hygiene." In particular, the document referred to one resident not having access to mouthwash in her room and another resident's long, dirty fingernails.

At the close of the hearing, Caudell found the ad was misleading and deceptive because it said the nursing facility had been cited "for failing to assist" residents in certain areas, while the government report did not use that "failing to" language in its report. He later issued a written order prohibiting McHugh Fuller from publishing or causing the ad to be published in the future and giving the firm 20 days to make sure any electronic posting of the ad by the newspaper was removed.

The law firm appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, raising several arguments. The firm says that Caudell abused his discretion in finding the ad false and misleading. But the law firm also raises a procedural argument, saying it didn't have advance notice that the judge was going to make a final decision in the case based on the May 2014 hearing. McHugh Fuller later filed a separate appeal complaining that Caudell had excluded from the appellate record materials that the law firm thought should be included.

The court found that the trial court had erred in granting a permanent injunction without clear notice to the law firm that such an order was contemplated. (Mike Frisch)

May 11, 2015 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Litigation Privilege Protects Disparaging Opening Statement

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has held that the litigation privilege requires dismissal of an action brought by a party ("OBG") who had settled a claim with a mutual non-disparagement clause.

After the settlement, the other party went to trial against another defendant. 

This claim was based on OBG's contention that the plaintiff's attorney violated the provision in opening statement by accusations against the defendant who had settled.

Well over 100 years ago the Court of Appeals recognized in Maryland common law an absolute litigation privilege that immunizes litigation participants from liability in tort for words spoken or written in the course of a judicial proceeding. It crafted an absolute litigation privilege for Maryland that is a hybrid of the English and American versions of that privilege. Lawyers are protected by the American version, which immunizes them from liability in tort for words spoken or written in the course of a judicial proceeding so long as the words are relevant to the proceeding... (citations omitted)

Lawyers are duty bound by the Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct to zealously advocate for their clients, which includes introducing evidence that supports their clients’ positions and presenting argument in furtherance of their clients’ claims or defenses. See Preamble to MRPC (“as advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system.”). The specter of civil liability for words spoken or written in the course of a judicial proceeding will inhibit lawyers from abiding by their professional obligation to advocate zealously, imperiling the rights of their clients. See T. Leigh Anenson, “Absolute Immunity from Civil Liability: Lessons for Litigation Lawyers,” 31 Pepp. L. Rev. 915, 922 (2004); see also Greenberg Traurig, LLP v. Frias Holding Co., 331 P. 3d 901, 903 (Nev. 2014) (explaining that “[t]he policy behind the [litigation] privilege, as it applies to attorneys participating in judicial proceedings, is to grant them as officers of the court the utmost freedom in their efforts to obtain justice for their clients.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (alteration in Greenberg).

Thus, the contentions at the trial were immunized from the assertion that they violated the non-disparagement clause.

The court also affirmed the trial court's denial of a motion to disqualify counsel as a necessary witness.

Judge Nazarian dissented

The ultimate question...is whether the City agreed, as part of settling its differences with OBG, not to disparage OBG in the Plant Upgrade Case. The outcome of that question depends in the first instance on what the parties intended the non-disparagement clause to cover. The circuit court erred in dismissing the case in the face of that looming factual dispute, and I would reverse and remand on that basis. From there, I would hold that the City could well have agreed to limit its litigation positions in the ongoing litigation, whether viewed as a positional or tactical decision or as a waiver of the litigation privilege, and direct the circuit court on remand to address OBG’s claims against that backdrop. And for those reasons, I respectfully dissent.

(Mike Frisch)

April 28, 2015 in Current Affairs, The Practice | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Take That, Chief Justice Roberts

The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that a corporation convicted at trial and declared indigent by the trial judge is not entitled to a public defender on appeal at public expense.

Western World, Inc. was indicted for crimes arising from a shooting during a reenactment of a gunfight at Wild West City. The corporation was represented at trial by private counsel, who negotiated a plea deal.

The plea deal preserved an appeal issue.

The Office of the Public Defender noted the appeal but sought to be relieved, citing its limited resources.

The defendant had opposed the motion.

The court did reaffirm a corporation's right to be represented by counsel under federal and New Jersey law. (Mike Frisch)

March 30, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

February 11, 2015 in Billable Hours, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Medicaid Advice And Unauthorized Practice

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.

The committee

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)

January 15, 2015 in Bar Discipline & Process, Current Affairs, Hot Topics, Law & Society | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Locating The Puck

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)

January 9, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

STAND And Deliver Legal Services

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.

2013-0072. Lorain Cty. Bar Assn. v. Zubaidah, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-4060.

(Mike Frisch)

September 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Jersey Favors Pro Bono

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)

July 3, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process, Current Affairs, Pro Bono | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Praise For "Confidence Games"

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."

(Mike Frisch)

July 2, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pregnant Associate's Claims Survive In Part

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)

June 3, 2014 in Current Affairs, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Oregon Rejects Fiduciary Exception

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

We conclude that OEC 503(4) was intended as a complete enumeration of the exceptions to the attorney-client privilege. Insofar as that list does not include a “fiduciary exception,” that exception does not exist in Oregon, and the trial court erred in relying on that exception to compel production of communications that otherwise fell within the general scope of the privilege. It follows that the trial court’s order must be vacated to the extent that it orders production of communications that were otherwise within the privilege. 
 
The litigation involved a dispute between Davis Wright Tremaine and a former client. (Mike Frisch)

May 31, 2014 in Current Affairs, Privilege | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Finger Pointing And Yelling At Deposition Not Actionable

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.

(Mike Frisch)

May 16, 2014 in Current Affairs, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Criminal Blogging

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)

May 13, 2014 in Blogging, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Georgia Accepts Screens For Paralegals

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.

(Mike Frisch)

May 12, 2014 in Current Affairs, Law & Business, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Arbitration Clause Must Be Explained To Client

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.

(Mike Frisch)

April 9, 2014 in Clients, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)