Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The South Carolina Supreme Court has held that modifying a loan without the participation of an attorney does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law.
The case involved petitioners who had obtained loan modifications and failed to make timely payments under the new terms.
They tried to prevent foreclosure by contending that the lenders had engaged in unauthorized practice by modifying the loans without using an attorney.
The court disagreed. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
A non-attorney may file a claim on behalf of a business entity in probate court without running afoul of unauthorized practice restrictions, according to an opinion issued today by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The process for an allowance of claim merely requires the filing of a single page standard form that can be found on a court web page. The form requires an attestation that the claim is valid, timely and unpaid.
None of these activities require the professional judgment of an attorney or entail specialized legal knowledge and ability.
Bravo. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that the requirement of an affidavit of merit in a professional negligence action is an unconstitutional infringement on access to the courts:
The Oklahoma Constitution does not anticipate that litigants will be burdened with the entire bill for maintenance of the court system. The Oklahoma courts were never intended to be self-funded, and the increasing degree to which they have become so is disturbing. Despite our holding in Fent v. State ex. rel. Dep't of Human Services, 2010 OK 2, 236 P.3d 61, the judicial department of government is burdened with collecting fees for thirty seven entities--only seven of which have a relationship to the third branch of government. The Okla. Const. art. 2, §6, guarantees the right of individuals to access the courts, and while litigation does not have to be free and entirely at the public expense, at the very least the provision means that justice cannot be for sale. The idea that money cannot be used as a bar to deny justice long predates the Oklahoma Constitution, and is one of the fundamental values of our legal system.
The Magna Carta, one of the oldest progenitors of American legal principles, states: "We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man, either justice or right." When the cost of obtaining an affidavit of merit in professional negligence actions is added to the already high and increasingly rising cost of using the court system to resolve disputes, the result is that a line is crossed, and litigation costs go from being merely a hurdle to being an unconstitutional burden on accessing the courts.
The title expresses my views. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, May 13, 2013
A recent Rhode Island Supreme Court decision is summarized on the court's web page:
Accordingly, the Court vacated the order of the Superior Court denying Sherwin-Williams’ motion for a protective order and remanded the case to the Superior Court.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The New York Court of Appeals has held that an attorney who participates in an assigned counsel program ("ACP") for indigent persons "lacks standing to challenge how the ACP Plan deals with the provision of counsel to unemancipated minors in adult criminal court..."
The attorney was never a minor charged with a crime or the parent of a charged minor.
The court noted that the attorney contended that sections of the Plan "caused him to be assigned fewer cases. But personal disagreement and speculative financial loss are insufficient to confer standing." (Mike Frisch)
Monday, April 22, 2013
A recent opinion of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee is summarized below:
Can a government lawyer represent an agency employer in defending the agency from furlough-related complaints brought by other agency employees when the lawyer was also furloughed and is pursuing her own complaint in which the allegations are substantially similar to those in the complaint she is defending? Under the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer has a conflict of interest in a matter when “[t]he lawyer’s professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be adversely affected by the lawyer’s responsibilities to or interests in a third party or the lawyer’s own financial, business, property, or personal interests.” Rule 1.7(b)(4). Such a conflict plainly exists in this situation. However, so-called individual interest conflicts like this one can be waived under Rule 1.7(c) if:
- Each potentially affected client provides informed consent to such representation after full disclosure of the existence and nature of the possible conflict and the possible adverse consequences of such representation; and
- The lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.
The only affected client here is the agency. The agency’s informed consent to the conflicted lawyer’s representation notwithstanding her individual interest conflict would satisfy the requirements of the first paragraph. But client consent alone is not enough. Under the second paragraph, the lawyer must also reasonably believe that she can provide competent and diligent representation to the agency in the matter despite her personal interest, and her belief must be objectively reasonable under the circumstances. That may be a difficult standard to meet when the lawyer is pursuing her own challenge to the furlough while being asked to defend the agency against substantially similar challenges by other affected agency employees.
The opinion was adopted this month, in response to a hypothetical raised by the "sequester." (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued an opinion that amends RPC 7.5 to allow the use of a law firm trade name "so long as [the name] describes the nature of the legal practice in terms that are accurate, descriptive, and informative, but not misleading, comparative, or suggestive of the ability to obtain results."
The court considered the trade name Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, P.C. and concluded that all of the name was permissible save for the "Alpha." The rest of the name, along with the name of a managing New Jersey attorney, passes muster.
Alpha is impermissibly comparative, like (as the court had suggested) "Best Tax Lawyers" and "Tax Fixers" would be.
The court also directed that a committee be established to implement its new Rule.
The case had been remanded in 2009 and reargued twice after the remand.
Question: What if your last name is Best? What if I change my name to Mike Superlawyer? (Mike Frisch)
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The New Hampshire Bar Association Ethics Committee has recently issued an opinion on cloud computing.
The internet has changed the practice of law in many ways, including how data is stored and accessed. "Cloud computing" can be an economical and efficient way to store and use data. However, a lawyer who uses cloud computing must be aware of its effect on the lawyer's professional responsibilities. The NHBA Ethics Committee adopts the consensus among states that a lawyer may use cloud computing consistent with his or her ethical obligations, as long as the lawyer takes reasonable steps to ensure that sensitive client information remains confidential.
The New Hampshire Ethics Committee concurs with the consensus among states that a lawyer may use cloud computing in a manner consistent with his or her ethical duties by taking reasonable steps to protect client data. Granted, a lawyer may not find a provider of cloud computing services whose terms of service address all of the issues addressed in this opinion], but it bears repeating, that while a lawyer need not become an expert in data storage, a lawyer must remain aware of how and where data is stored and what the service agreement says. Although the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct do not impose a strict liability standard, the duties of confidentiality and competence are ongoing and not delegable. The requirement of competence means that even when storing data in the cloud, a lawyer must take reasonable steps to protect client information and cannot allow the storage and retrieval of data to become nebulous.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Ninth District Court of Appeals has ruled that the Medina County Court of Common Pleas cannot issue a lifelong ban to a Florida man from entering the state of Ohio.
According to court documents, George Mose, of Bradenton, Florida, drove to Brunswick, Ohio with plans to kill a woman he was previously involved with. Acting on a tip, police later found Mose in a motel room with incriminating evidence. He was charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted aggravated burglary.
As part of a plea agreement, Mose pleaded guilty to all three counts and “agreed never to return to the State of Ohio during his lifetime other than for parole requirements.” The trial court accepted the agreement and sentenced Mose to three years of prison with credit for time served.
Mose then filed an application for a delayed appeal and said the common pleas court erred by “not providing [Mr. Mose] with the proper post release control terms in the sentence.” He also said the trial court “lacked subject matter jurisdiction to accept his guilty pleas because his actions did not constitute an ‘attempt’ to commit murder or burglary.”
Judge Carla Moore wrote the appeals court’s unanimous decision and said: “We agree that Mr. Mose’s lifelong banishment from the State of Ohio is contrary to law … While we understand that Mr. Mose agreed to this sanction, the trial court was without authority to impose a punishment which is not authorized by statute. As such, we must vacate only that portion of Mr. Mose’s sentence.”
Judges Beth Whitmore and Donna Carr concurred in the February 25 opinion that vacated only the portion of the judgment banishing Mose from the State of Ohio, and affirmed the remainder of judgment of the Medina County Court of Common Pleas.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has affirmed the dismissal of legal malpractice claims involving the handling and distribution of insurance payments for a business that was located in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The attorneys had initiated a chapter 11 proceeding on behalf of the business in August 2011.
The defendant attorneys had, by the time of the payment, moved their practice to the Marc Dreier firm.
This complicated things.
Defendants could not release the escrowed funds to their clients until the bankruptcy case was formally dismissed. They sought a "structured dismissal" of the case, negotiating with the creditors' committee and the U.S. trustee as to when and how the various interested parties would be paid by the estate. Defendants had advised plaintiffs that winding up the estate could "take some time." On September 26, 2008, after agreement with all of the necessary parties had been reached, Fox submitted a motion to the bankruptcy court to approve the voluntary dismissal of the bankruptcy proceeding. The bankruptcy court approved the dismissal in an order dated October 30, 2008. The order provided, in relevant part, for distribution of the cash held for plaintiffs within 15 days, with U.S. trustee fees being paid first, administrative expenses in the amount of $61,972.94 second, and all remaining cash to be paid to the secured creditors in partial satisfaction of the secured claim.
Following the bankruptcy dismissal order, Fox distributed $61,972.94 from a
TBF escrow account to pay the administrative fees, which largely consisted of its own legal fees. On December 2, 2008, after reconciliation of outstanding accounts with the U.S. trustee had been finalized, $3,475 was paid out of the TBF escrow account to the U.S. trustee in full satisfaction of fees. The remaining cash in the TBF escrow account belonged to plaintiffs, and was paid to them. Onthe same date, Fox sent an internal email to Dreier LLP accounting personnel requesting that a check payable to plaintiffs for $350,000 be drawn from the 5966 account and forwarded to Fox for delivery to plaintiffs.
Unfortunately and coincidentally, Marc Dreier was arrested the next day. Upon learning of the arrest, Traub immediately repeated his demand that Dreier LLP transfer funds being held in the 5966 account to the TBF escrow account. Dreier LLP acceded to this request, and the next day wired $441,145.58 to the TBF escrow account. These monies included the settlement payment to plaintiffs, as well as funds belonging to other clients of defendants. After the monies were transferred, Fox and Traub resigned from Dreier LLP and returned to TBF. On December 10, 2008, a federal district judge appointed a receiver for Dreier LLP and restrained the firm's assets. On December 16, 2008, Dreier LLP filed for bankruptcy.
The court found no basis for malpractice liability:
What separates this case from the cases cited by plaintiffs is the nature of the escrow account in which the subject funds were placed. Because the 5966 account had been used by Marc Dreier to operate his Ponzi scheme, the settlement funds became part of the pool to be distributed on a pro rata basis with the victims of the fraud (see Securities & Exch. Comm. v Credit Bancorp., 290 F3d at 89-90). Accordingly, the analysis performed in Carlson and OPM Leasing Servs. as to when the funds became the property of the intended beneficiary of the funds is irrelevant. Further, contrary to plaintiffs' argument, it makes no difference that when defendants transferred the funds to the Dreier LLP bankruptcy trustee they had been transferred to the TBF escrow account and were no longer in the escrow account which Marc Dreier had used to perpetrate his Ponzi scheme. Plaintiffs do not dispute defendants' position that the funds were transferred into the TBF escrow account with the understanding that they would not be released to plaintiffs without prior approval by whoever was ultimately assigned the tasks of sorting out the various claims which were sure to be made against the Dreier LLP bankruptcy estate.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The Winter 2013 (Vol. XXVI, No. 1) of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics has just been released.
The volume has the following:
What If Legal Ethics Can't Be Reduced To A Maxim? by Andrew B. Ayers
Achieving Procedural Goals Through Indirection: The Use Of Ethics Doctrine To Justify Contingency Fee Caps In MDL Aggregate Settlements by Morris A. Ratner
Supreme Court Recusal From Marberry To Modern Day by James Sample
Law Firm Ethics In The Shadow Of Corporate Social Responsibility by Christopher J. Whelan and Neta Ziv
Kudos to the journal editors for their fine work.
Disclosure: I am (along with my colleague Mitt Regan) co-faculty advisor to the journal. (Mike Frisch)
An attorney represented an organization in defense of several employment matters from 2002-2004. The relationship ended when the client sued the attorney for malpractice.
The organization moved for disqualification in a pending case in which the attorney represented a plaintiff suing it in an employment matter. The trial court denied a motion to disqualify.
The South Carolina Supreme Court held that interlocutory appeal of the denial is not an available remedy. The issue can be addressed on appeal of the judgment. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, February 22, 2013
The New Jersey Appellate Division has rejected an asserted Second Amendment violation in a case that involves the denial of a permit to carry a firearm outside his home.
The applicant sought to establish his justifiable need to carry because he received substantial cash payments in connection with his landscaping business. The trial court rejected his contention regarding his justifiable need.
Both trial and appellate court rejected the constitutional claim, as stated by the Appellate Division:
...given the presumption of constitutionality, the lack of clarity that the Supreme Court in Heller intended the extend the Second Amendment right to a state regulation of the right to carry outside the home, and the Second Circuit's explicit affirmation of a law similar to ours, we affirm [the trial court's] determination that [applicant's] rights were not infringed.
The State had appealed a police chief's decision to issue a permit to the applicant. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, December 21, 2012
The question of the day comes from the Iowa Supreme Court:
Can a male employer terminate a female employee because the employer's wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee?
...we ultimately conclude the conduct does not amount to unlawful sex discrimination in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
The employee was hired in 1999 as a dental assistent in the employer's dental office. She worked there capably for over 10 1/2 years. However, the employer had complained that she dressed in a "too tight" and revealing manner.
During the last six months of her tenure, they "started texting each other on both work and personal matters outside the workplace." The employee denied that she flirted with the employer although there was some sexual banter between them.
When the employer was with his children for a Colorado Christmas, Mrs. Employer found the text messages.
There ensued a confrontation between them and pastoral counseling. As a result of the perceived ongoing threat to the marriage, the employee was terminated.
The court concluded:
...the issue is not whether [employer] treated [employee] badly. We are asked to decide only if a genuine fact issue exists as to whether [employer] engaged in unlawful gender discrimination when he fired [employee] at the request of his wife....we believe that this conduct did not amount to unlawful discrimination...
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and remanded the dismissal of a claim brought against the Administrative Office of the United States Court ("the central administrative support organization for the federal judiciary" ) by a rejected applicant for an attorney position.
The plaintiff is an attorney who resides in Kentucky. She applied online for a position as an Attorney-Advisor. Her application did not meet a job requirement that she live and work in the D.C. area. She received an automated rejection letter because of her Kentucky home.
She then sued AO, arguing that the geographic limitation was unconstitutional.
The district court granted dismissal for both lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim due to sovereign immunity.
The remand directs the district court to explain its conclusion that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Internet forums are venues where citizens may participate and be heard in free debate involving civic concerns. It may be said that such forums are the newest form of the town meeting. We recognize that, although they are engaging in debate, persons posting to these sites assume aliases that conceal their identities or "blog profiles." Nonetheless, falsity remains a necessary element in a defamation claim and, accordingly, "only statements alleging facts can properly be the subject of a defamation action Within this ambit, the Supreme Court correctly determined that the accusation on the newspaper site that the plaintiff was a "terrorist" was not actionable. Such a statement was likely to be perceived as "rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet." This conclusion is especially apt in the digital age, where it has been commented that readers give less credence to allegedly defamatory Internet communications than they would to statements made in other milieus. Accordingly, we conclude that this statement constitued an expression of opinion, and, as such, is nonactionable.
Turning to the other posting described in the fourth cause of action, it is not clear on the face of the posting whom the poster was accusing of dumping a horse head in Gail Soro's pool, as the posting is essentially just a cross-reference to the Wawayandafirst blogspot. Since the statements contained on the Wawayandafirst blogspot form the basis of the first and second causes of action, the mere reference to those statements is duplicative of those causes of action.Therefore, the Supreme Court correctly granted that branch of the Skinner defendants' motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the fourth cause of action insofar as asserted against them. (citations omitted)
The horse head allegation was actionable on this basis:
The published allegation that the plaintiff put a severed horse head in a Town Board member's swimming pool constituted defamation per se under this standard and, therefore, did not require the plaintiff to plead special damages. Moreover, the accusation that the plaintiff placed a
horse head in a political rival's pool, if true, describes conduct that would constitute serious crimes. A false published allegation that a person committed a serious crime is also a ground for asserting a cause of action to recover damages for defamation per se, thus relieving the plaintiff from pleading special damages. (citation omitted)
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
In a case of first impression, the New Mexico Supreme Court has held that disqualification is mandatory when an associate who played a 'substantial role" in litigation and possesses confidential information moves to a firm involved in the litigation against her former client.
Both the moving associate and her new firm are barred from further representation.
The court noted that it had adopted a more restricted version of Rule 1.11than the ABA Model Rule, and that its rule does not permit screening to prevent imputed disqualification.
While the rule may have a chilling consequence for lawyer mobility, the court emphasized that the public policy considerations that underpin the loyalty to clients justifies the result:
In the practice of law, there is no higher duty than one's loyalty to a client.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
A recently-issued opinion of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee concludes:
An in–house lawyer may not disclose or use her employer/client’s confidences or secrets in support of the lawyer’s claim against the employer/client for employment discrimination or retaliatory discharge unless expressly authorized by Rule 1.6. If the employer/client puts the lawyer’s conduct in issue, however (e.g., by lodging an affirmative defense or a counterclaim), the lawyer may disclose or use the employer’s confidences or secrets insofar as reasonably
necessary to respond to the employer/client’s contention. An in–house lawyer is not prohibited from bringing such a claim against her employer/client merely because the employer/client may find it necessary or helpful to disclose its confidences or secrets in defending against the lawyer’s claim.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
A recent decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court turned on the interpretation of the phrase "living in adultery" in determing the disposition of an estate.
The phrase comes from the Statute of Westminster (1285) as adopted by Kentucky in 1796 and most recently codified in 1942.
The deceased was killed in a work-related accident. The only significant asset of his estate was the workers' compensation claim.
At the time of his death, he had been married for four months. His wife (the claimant here) sought a civil protection order and had filed for divorce. They were living apart.
The proofs at trial established that she had engaged in sexual intercourse the night before her husband died.
The trial court found that the single act established that the wife was "living in adultery" and awarded the estate to the deceased's mother.
Both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the wife's single act did not constitute "living in adultery."
There are two dissents. Justice Cunningham stated the issue as whether the estate should go to the deceased "loving, nurturing mother" or the "adulterous and absent wife" and said: "Let's be sensible." The dissenters would hold that the marriage was clearly over.
The majority and dissents also disagree over the significance of the wife's post-widow continuing relationship with the person she had slept with on the night before her husband's death.
The majority found that the widow could no longer engage in adultery after her husband's death. The evidence thus was irrelevant. The dissenters would consider the evidence as proof that the marriage was over. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, August 23, 2012
The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that an injured former Washington Redskins football player is a "covered employee" entitled to workers compensation because he was regularly employed in Maryland.
The Redskins practice in Virginia but play their home games in Landover, Maryland. The court held that this fact establishes the employee's regular employment in the State:
...practice time is incidental to playing football games.
In a separate matter, the court yesterday held that a Redskins player (a punter) who was injured while warming up for a game suffered a compensable injury under workers compensation law.