Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pennsylvania Limited Scope Arrangement Opinion

From the web page of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility and the Professional Guidance Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association have collaborated to produce Joint Formal Opinion 2011-100, regarding limited scope arrangements.

The Committees define “limited scope arrangements” to include two kinds of activities – unbundled legal services, in which a lawyer is engaged only to perform particular activities rather than undertake comprehensive representation of the client, and undisclosed representation, commonly referred to as “ghostwriting,” in which a lawyer prepares legal material for the client’s use but does not undertake direct representation of the client with a court or opposing party.

The opinion notes that limited scope arrangements are generally permissible under the Rules of Professional Conduct, and indeed are specifically contemplated in many of the rules.

The opinion notes that the comment to RPC 1.2 states that a limitation on representation must be reasonable under the circumstances. The fact that the representation is limited does not relieve the lawyer of the normal duty of competence and preparation under RPC 1.1. Second, the lawyer must be sure that the client has exercised informed consent to the limitation on representation. Informed consent is defined in RPC 1.0(e) as “consent by a person to a proposed course of conduct after the lawyer has communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.” From the Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers, the Committees drew five safeguards:

  • a client must be informed of any significant problems a limitation might entail, and the client must consent;
  • any contract limiting the representation is construed from the standpoint of a reasonable client;
  • the fee charged by the lawyer must remain reasonable;
  • any change made, an unreasonably long time after the representation begins must meet the more stringent test for post inception contracts or modifications; and
  • the terms of the limitation must be reasonable under the circumstances.

The Committees provide a list of Rules of Professional Conduct which the lawyer entering into a limited scope engagement should consider:

Finally, after an extensive examination of rules, court decisions, and ethics opinions nationwide, the Committees conclude that the lawyer engaged in limited scope representation is not under an obligation to disclose his or her role to either opposing parties or to a tribunal. The Committees note that there is quite a bit of divergent thought on these issues.

This short summary is no substitute for reading the 31-page analysis through which the Committees reach their conclusion, and the lawyer considering such employment would be wise to study the opinion firsthand.

(Mike Frisch)

March 13, 2012 in Current Affairs, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

You Can't Tell Them Your Address If You Don't Have One

The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the Court of Appeals that reversed a conviction in a sex offender registration case.

Wisconsin requires a released offender to provide an address to authorities 10 days prior to release from prison. The defendant could not find housing within the time. 

From the majority opinion:

We begin by clarifying what is not at issue in this case. It is undisputed that Dinkins was required to register, and continues to be required to register, as a sex offender. It is undisputed that, as part of his registration, Dinkins is required to provide his address. This case is not about whether homeless registrants are "exempt" from registration requirements. They are not.

Rather, this case presents the narrow question of whether, under the circumstances where Dinkins attempted to comply with the registration requirements but was unable to find housing, he can be convicted of a felony for failing to notify the DOC of "[t]he address at which" he would "be residing" upon his release from prison. To resolve this question, we must interpret the sex offender registry statute. Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review independently of the determinations rendered by the circuit court and the court of appeals...

It is undisputed that Dinkins did not have a home of his own. The evidence in the record suggests that Dinkins made efforts to secure housing with relatives, but these efforts were unavailing. A DOC agent testified that, other than facilitating contact between Dinkins and his relatives, the DOC did not offer him additional assistance. The circuit court's finding that Dinkins was unable to provide the required information to the DOC because it did not exist, despite his attempt to provide the information, is not clearly erroneous.

There are concurring and dissenting opinions. (Mike Frisch)

March 13, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Barbour Pardons Upheld

The Associated Press reports:

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour during his final days in office, including several that freed convicted killers.

The Republican pardoned 198 people before finishing his second term Jan. 10, including four convicted murderers and a robber who worked as inmate trusties at the Governor's Mansion. Of those pardoned, 10 were in jail at the time.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood challenged the pardons. Hood argued before the Supreme Court on Feb. 9 that some pardons didn't meet the requirements of the Mississippi Constitution, which says people seeking pardons must publish notices for 30 days in a newspaper.

In a 6-3 opinion, the justices wrote "we are compelled to hold that — in each of the cases before us — it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met."

The 10 people who were incarcerated when Barbour pardoned them had the most at stake. Among those, five have been held in prison on a temporary restraining order pending the outcome of Hood's legal challenge. It was not immediately clear whether they would not be released.

The other five had already been released by the time Hood persuaded a lower court judge to issue that restraining order.

At the heart of the pardon dispute was Section 124 of the Mississippi Constitution, which says "no pardon shall be granted" by the governor until the convicted felon applying for the pardon publishes notice of that application for 30 days in a newspaper in or near the county where the crime was committed.

Hood contended that if ads weren't run in daily papers every day for 30 days, or weekly newspapers once a week for five weeks, the pardons weren't valid.

Barbour, who once considered a 2012 White House run, was limited to two terms as governor. In addition to the pardons, he also granted medical release and conditional clemency to some inmates, but they weren't required to give public notice.

The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

March 8, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Untracked Changes

The Montana Supreme Court reversed a grant of summary judgment to an attorney and firm in a legal malpractice suit.

The attorney was retained to represent an individual client (and entities created on his behalf) in a boundary negotiation with a golf course. The client wished to develop adjacent property.

The attorney submitted a draft agreement to opposing counsel. The attorney for the golf course made a series of untracked changes in the agreement and returned it. The attorney did not review the changes and had the client sign it with the changes.

Thereafter, things went poorly for the client. The deal went south and the client lost his home. He filed a pro se suit against the attorney in the name of the entity. He then retained counsel, who filed suit in another county.

The key question was whether, for statute of limitations purposes, the suit initiated through counsel related back to the pro se suit. The court rejected the contention that the pro se suit in the name of the entity was a nullity. Rather, the remand directs the lower court to consider factors in resolving the "relate back" issue.

Practice pointer: Always make sure there are no untracked changes of opposing counsel in a document you have your client sign. (Mike Frisch)

March 7, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Bad Odor

Another day, another dissent from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Today's case involves whether the stink from accumulated bat guano is covered by an insurance policy on a vacation home at Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

 Justice Ziegler holds "no."

We conclude that the pollution exclusion clause in Auto-Owners' insurance policy excludes coverage for the loss of the Hirschhorns' home that allegedly resulted from the accumulation of bat guano. First, we conclude that bat guano falls unambiguously within the policy's definition of "pollutants." Second, we conclude that the Hirschhorns' alleged loss resulted from the "discharge, release, escape, seepage, migration or dispersal" of bat guano under the plain terms of the policy's pollution exclusion clause. Accordingly, the circuit court properly dismissed the Hirschhorns' complaint against Auto-Owners.

Justice Abrahamson, joined by Justice Bradley, dissents:

...instead of utilizing context to discern meaning, the majority uses a backward method. It first selects one dictionary definition from among many to define "'waste' [as] unambiguously includ[ing] feces and urine." Majority op., ¶35. The majority's selected dictionary definition ends the discussion of the meaning of "waste." The majority's approach fails in several respects. It fails to read words in the insurance policy in context to discern their meaning; it fails to read the insurance policy from the perspective of a reasonable insured; and it fails to construe ambiguities against the drafter and in favor of coverage.

(Mike Frisch)

March 6, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pro Bono Emeritus

From the web page of the Tennessee Supreme Court:

The Tennessee Supreme Court has approved the petitions of two attorneys to receive pro bono emeritus status. Through the Court’s pro bono emeritus program, retired attorneys may provide pro bono legal services through organizations that offer free legal services to Tennesseans who are unable to afford legal counsel.

Susan Carolyn Howard of Memphis and Charles E. Racine of Gallatin received pro bono emeritus status from the Supreme Court in January.

“We commend Ms. Howard and Mr. Racine for sharing their time and talents with the growing number of Tennesseans who cannot afford legal services,” Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said. “We hope more attorneys will follow their example by participating in this program and other opportunities to provide pro bono legal assistance.”

The pro bono emeritus program was established on Jan. 1, 2011, as part of the Court’s ongoing efforts to improve access to justice in the state. Three attorneys statewide have received this designation since the pro bono emeritus program was adopted.

The pro bono emeritus rule gives retired attorneys the authority to perform all legal work, without pay, on behalf of a client. Pro bono emeritus attorneys may represent the client in court with the approval of the judge hearing the case.

Retired attorneys who wish to participate in the program must file an application with the appellate court clerk’s office. They must have actively practiced law for five of the past 10 years or practiced law for 25 years preceding their application. The Supreme Court reviews all applications and provides a written approval to the attorney.

(Mike Frisch)

March 5, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Louisiana Bar Admission Changes

A recent announcement from the web page of the Louisiana Supreme Court:

Two Orders have been executed that amend provisions pertaining to Part I of the Bar examination. The first Order is effective immediately and amends the February 2012 Bar examination. The current scoring structure is retained, except that the conditional failure option has been eliminated. Therefore, applicants who have conditionally failed the examination will have one final chance to sit for the separate subject examinations required to pass at the February 2012 examination. See Rule XVII, Section 8(A) (effective October 19, 2011).

The Court has also placed a limitation on the number of times an applicant may sit for the Louisiana Bar examination. Applicants shall have only five (5) attempts to pass the Bar examination. See Rule XVII, Section 8(C) (effective October 19, 2011).

The second Order is effective on July 1, 2012. It implements a "compensatory scoring" system commencing with the July 2012 Bar examination, and sets 650 as the required score for passing (with Code subjects to be weighted twice as much as non-Code subjects).

In addition, applicants are required to sit for all nine (9) subject examinations and make a good faith effort to pass each subject examination, or they will fail Part I of the Bar examination. See Rule XVII, Section 7(A) (effective July 1, 2012).

Questions regarding the amendments to Rule XVII should be directed to the Committee on Bar Admissions at 504-836-2420.

(Mike Frisch)

March 5, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Georgetown Law Expresses Support For Student Attacked By Limbaugh

A statement has been issued signed by faculty members, administrators and students at Georgetown Law in support of student Sandra Fluke:

Ms. Fluke had the courage to publicly defend and advocate for her beliefs about an important issue of widespread concern. She has done so with passion and intelligence. And she has been rewarded with the basest sort of name-calling and vilification, words that aim only to belittle and intimidate. As scholars and teachers who aim to train public-spirited lawyers, no matter what their politics, we abhor these attacks on Ms. Fluke and applaud her strength and grace in the face of them.

(Mike Frisch)

March 2, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Courts Can't Impose Pro Bono Penalty

The Maryland Court of Appelas reversed the Court of Special Appeals and held that 'the consideration that one party was represented on a pro bono basis, in an award of attorneys' fees to the other party who had retained counsel was erroneous under [the statute governing awards of costs and fees in family law matters]" and remanded for reconsideration of the statutory factors.

The case involved a custody modification proceeding. The petitioner was represented pro bono by the Sexual Assault Legal Institute. Her ex-husband retained counsel and accumulated over $70,000 in legal fees.

The trial court ordered the petitioner to pay  her ex-huband over $30,000 in legal fees and costs because "she was in a better financial position than [the ex-husband], due to her having received pro bono representation..." (Mike Frisch)

February 27, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Union Representative In Labor Arbitration Need Not Be Attorney

From the web page of the Rhode Island Supreme Court:

Before the Supreme Court was a request from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (committee) for guidance on whether nonlawyer union representatives engage in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-27-2 when representing unions at public labor arbitration hearings. 

After receiving a complaint filed by the Town of Little Compton (the town) against the Little Compton Firefighters Local 3957 (the union), the committee conducted an investigational hearing on the matter.  In its complaint, the town contended that the union or its representative had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of § 11-27-2 when the union allowed its nonlawyer business agent to represent it at a labor arbitration hearing.  The committee’s report to the Court ultimately concluded that the union representative’s actions on behalf of the union constituted a “technical violation” of the statute governing the unauthorized practice of law.  Mindful that this type of lay representation of unions in labor arbitrations is a common practice in Rhode Island, the committee petitioned the Court for guidance on how to proceed in the matter.  After reviewing the committee record, the parties’ written submissions and oral arguments, and the many amicus briefs filed, the Supreme Court declined to limit this particular practice at this point in time.

The court's opinion is linked here.

The court notes that the lay representation is "commonplace" in Rhode Island, although that fact is not dispositive. Rather, the court concludes that public policy favors the continuation of the practice. The arbitrations are more about the "law of the shop" than strict legal principles. (Mike Frisch)

February 13, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Wrong Candidate

The New Jersey Appellate Court has held that the litigation in last year's Republican primary permitted the incumbent to run in the general election for Morris County Freeholder was inproperly decided. An initial count had put the challenger ahead by 10 votes. A recount had him ahead by six votes.

A court action led to the incumbent being declared the primary winner.

The web page for Howes & Howes has this report on the decision of the Law Division:

During the course of the trial, there was evidence that Mr. Lyon failed to file certain campaign finance reports.  Specifically, it was alleged that he failed to file the 48 hour report of expenditures that would have been required for him to disclose approximately sixteen thousand dollars worth of spending on a mail piece.  It was further alleged that he filed the required report, that Ms. Nordstrom would have known about the mailer, and would have responded to the mailer.  It was further alleged that the mailer was misleading and that the mailer had a direct impact on the outcome of the election.

The court held that since Mr. Lyon did not file the required disclosure, and that there was no defense for the failure to file, that the election was void.

The challenger, "Lyon for Conservative Freeholder," should have been certified as the primary winner. The court here thus removed the incumbent (who had won in the general election) and declared a vacancy in the position. (Mike Frisch)

February 7, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 20, 2012

From Law School To Puerto Vallarta

An update on the Vanderbilt Law theft case from WKRN-TV news:

A second man has been arrested in connection to the theft of a large amount of money from Vanderbilt University.

According to Vanderbilt's newspaper, Samuel Wakefield was taken into custody Wednesday and charged with theft of more than $60,000.

The 30-year-old is the domestic partner of Jason Hunt, the former Vanderbilt law school employee accused of stealing $600,000 from the university.

Hunt was arrested last Friday in Arkansas.

Wakefield and Hunt reportedly moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in December where they opened a nightclub.

(Mike Frisch)

January 20, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Supporting Our Troops

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has entered an order providing that Bar Association members serving on active duty in the military in a combat zone may request waiver of annual bar dues:

Active OBA Members who are in an active duty and deployed status serving outside of the United States or one of its territories with the Armed Forces of the United States in a combat zone or receiving "Imminent Danger Pay" (Combat Pay) or "hardship duty pay" in any given year may request that dues be waived for that year. A request for a waiver of dues, along with sufficient supporting documentation of service, shall be submitted to the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association as soon as reasonably practical. Members requesting such dues waiver shall have the right to appeal any administrative decisions made by the Executive Director to the Board of Governors of the Oklahoma Bar Association and ultimately to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In the event the member is not able to submit the request personally, such request can be made by a family member, law partner or other such person having authority to act on behalf of the member.

The yearly dues are $275.00 (Mike Frisch)

October 31, 2011 in Current Affairs, Law & Society | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Let's (Carefully) Chat

The North Carolina State Bar has an opinion setting guidelines for an law firm's use of a live chat room:

Although the use of this type of technology is permissible, the practice is not without its risks, and a law firm utilizing this service must exercise certain precautions. The law firm must ensure that visitors who elect to participate in a live chat session are not misled to believe that they are conversing with a lawyer if such is not the case. While the use of the term “operator” seems appropriate for a nonlawyer, a designation such as “staff member,” or something similar, would require an affirmative disclaimer that a nonlawyer staff member is not an attorney. The law firm must ensure that the nonlawyer agent does not give any legal advice.

 The law firm should be wary of creating an “inadvertent” lawyer-client relationship. In addition, the law firm should exercise care in obtaining information from potential clients and be mindful of the potential consequences/duties resulting from the electronic communications. Rule 1.18 provides that a person who discusses with a lawyer the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a prospective client and that, even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has had discussions with a prospective client may generally not use or reveal information learned in the consultation. Furthermore, Rule 1.18(c) prohibits a lawyer from representing a client with interests materially adverse to those of a prospective client in the same or a substantially related matter if the lawyer received information from the prospective client that could be significantly harmful to that person in the matter. Therefore, acquiring information from a prospective client via the live chat service could create a conflict of interest with a current client that would require withdrawal.

The rules governing solicitation do not apply to communications not initiated by the attorney. (Mike Frisch)

August 5, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The One Percent Solution

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals amended a comment to its Rule of Professional Conduct  6.1 on pro bono activities:

[5] In determining their responsibilities under this rule, lawyers admitted to practice in the District of Columbia should be guided by the Resolutions on Pro Bono Services passed by the Judicial Conferences of the District of Columbia and the D.C. Circuit as amended from time to time. Those resolutions as adopted in 2009 and 2010, respectively, call on members of the D.C. Bar, at a minimum, each year to (1) accept one court appointment, (2) provide 50 hours of pro bono legal service, or (3) when personal representation is not feasible, contribute the lesser of $750 or 1 percent of earned income to a legal assistance organization that services the community’s economically disadvantaged, including pro bono referral and appointment offices sponsored by the Bar and the courts.

(Mike Frisch)

August 4, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fuzzy Line

Daniel Fisher in Forbes has this article on the difficulties presented to laypersons in understanding the contours of state rules governing unauthorized practice. He notes:

All 50 states have rules and laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, ostensibly to protect consumers. Defenders of these laws  make the analogy to doctors: You wouldn’t want an unlicensed doctor to remove your appendix, would you? But the analogy isn’t precise. While it’s true an unlicensed person can’t perform surgery or prescribe medicine, the American Medical Association doesn’t have the power to fine, say, a massage therapist who advises a client to take St. John’s Wort instead of Paxil. When it comes to the law, the bar associations of many states have the power not only to identify people who are violating their rules, but haul them into court.

Fisher recounts a number of recent enforcement cases and notes a Kentucky matter:

For document-preparers like Tarpinian, determining the fuzzy line they can’t cross over is difficult. One lawyer struggled to come up with a definition and finally told me the practice of law is giving advice that two lawyers can disagree upon, with neither one committing legal malpractice. That goes to the heart of any profession, which is exercising judgment honed by specialized education and experience. The judicial branch has a particular interest in insuring that people who collect fees to represent clients in court are qualified to be there.

But if even lawyers have trouble delineating the boundaries of the legal profession outside of court, how are non-lawyers expected to figure it out?

The Tarpinian decision is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

July 26, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not To Carp, Cavil, Censure, Or Castigate

Last month, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld as constitutional a statute that places a cap on damages in professional malpractice cases.

A circuit court judge sitting by designation recently filed a dissent. The judge raises some questions:

 Why should a circuit court judge, honored to be sitting as a temporary justice in the MacDonald case, take the time (and have the effrontery) to dissent?

It is not because of the way I was treated by the Court. The entire Court was most deferential in considering my opinions.

It is not because I seek to carp, cavil, censure, or castigate our Supreme Court of Appeals.

In fact, I cannot allude to this Court without exultation. I have immeasurable respect for our Supreme Court and in particular for Justice Robin Davis, one of the brightest and most dedicated persons who have ever served on our highest state court.

It is not because I want to take issue with the high quality of medical care in West Virginia and the fact that doctors and other medical professionals needed some legislative help to control exorbitant malpractice insurance costs.

I dissent because, by this counterintuitive decision in this decisively important case, the justices capitulated to the West Virginia Legislature’s political-and unconstitutional-mistreatment of medical malpractice victims, and by its decision, delivered the coup de grâce to the rights of thousands of West Virginians to be fully compensated for losses caused by the negligence of medical professionals.

Hot coffee, anyone? (Mike Frisch)


July 25, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Invasion Of Privilege By Prosecutor Requires Reversal Of Conviction

A decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court:

The central issue in this case is whether a prosecutor’s intrusion into communications between a defendant and his attorney that are subject to the attorney-client privilege requires the dismissal of the criminal charges against the defendant. The defendant, Patrick J. Lenarz, was charged in three informations, each of which charged the defendant with risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53- 21 (a) (1) and (2), and sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (1)(A). Before trial, the prosecutor came into possession of and read certain written materials belonging to the defendant that were subject to the attorney-client privilege. Upon learning this fact, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him, which the trial court denied. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53-21 (a) (1). The jury found the defendant not guilty of all of the remaining charges, and the trial court rendered judgments in accordance with the verdict. The defendant then appealed...

The court majority held that prejudice is presumed when the prosecutor intrudes on confidential communications "regardless of whether the invasion into the attorney-client privilege was intentional. The subjective intent of the government and the identity of the party responsible for the disclosure simply have no bearing on [the question of prejudice]."

 There is a lengthy dissent that would not reverse the conviction for the prosecutor's good-faith conduct in reading a single e-mail about defense trial strategy. The dissent takes the majority to task for its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence as well as "improper" fact-finding in reaching a question not raised by the defendant.

In sum, the dissent accuses the majority of breaking new ground as the first court ever to reverse a criminal conviction for an inadvertant invasion of privileged material by a prosecutor.

The dissent notes that the defendant's computer was lawfully seized in November 2004. It took until July 2005 for the lab to complete its work. There were five e-mails that were arguably privileged out of a mountain of material. One--to the defendant's spouse--dealt with trial strategy. All of the documents were provided to defense counsel. (Mike Frisch)


July 6, 2011 in Current Affairs, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scam Alert

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of Ohio issued a warning today about an Internet scam continuing to affect Ohio lawyers.

This latest email scam is similar to previous ones about which the Supreme Court has warned attorneys, according to Amy C. Stone, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

“This is how it starts,” Stone said. “The phrase ‘to exert pressure on our delinquent customers in the USA’ in the email is signaling that the company – in this case Malaysia Steel – seeks debt collection services. The attorney ‘collects’ a bogus check from the delinquent customer, deposits it into her IOLTA account, keeps a ridiculously large agreed fee for herself (given the amount of work performed) and then wires the remainder of funds out of the IOLTA to Malaysia Steel. The actual wire recipient (who is not Malaysia Steel) receives the attorney’s ‘good’ IOLTA funds, (which end up being funds from the attorney’s other clients), while the attorney receives a returned bogus collection check which is charged back against her account.”

According to Stone, the banks are aware of the scam and in most of the recent incidents have been able to reverse the wire transfer. However, the attorney is stuck paying the difference in the exchange rate for the currency wired out of and coming back into the IOLTA.

The proposed client is typically an actual Asian company – although the scammers have no connection with the company. Also, sometimes the scammers use real lawyers’ names in the initial e-mail.

Attorneys are advised to exercise caution when approached by unknown persons seeking to enter into financial transactions involving foreign entities. To report a suspected online crime, contact the FBI at www.ic3.gov.

Each Ohio attorney – or the attorney’s employer – that holds the funds of clients that are nominal in amount or held for a short period of time must have an IOLTA. Interest from IOLTAs funds the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, which distributes these funds to the state’s legal aid societies to provide free legal aid to the poor.

(Mike Frisch)

June 22, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Takings Clause Applies To Appointed Counsel's Representation

A South Carolina attorney who had been appointed to represent an indigent defendant in a complex criminal case advised the judge that he would stop working on the matter in light of his concern that he would not be paid beyond the statutory maximum for the representation. The judge threatened contempt and the attorney retained counsel. Eventually, the attorney agreed to continue with the case.

He did not get paid over the statutory cap. The trial judge denied excess compensation as a result of the attorney's "unprofessional behavior." He appealed the fee decision.

The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution was implicated but that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying fees over the cap:

We...recognize the historic obligation of an attorney to honor court-ordered appointments for the representation of indigents, while also recognizing that the attorney's service constitutes property for Fifth Amendment purposes where there is a right to counsel.  We do not view these principles as mutually exclusive.  In harmonizing these positions, a trial court should be guided by Bailey's approach to just compensation assessed in light of the public service foundation associated with membership in the legal profession.

The court quoted with approval this statement from the Kansas Supreme Court:

Attorneys make their living through their services.  Their services are the means of their livelihood.  We do not expect architects to design public buildings, engineers to design highways, dikes, and bridges, or physicians to treat the indigent without compensation.  When attorneys' services are conscripted for the public good, such a taking is akin to the taking of food or clothing from a merchant or the taking of services from any other professional for the public good.  And certainly when attorneys are required to donate funds out-of-pocket to subsidize a defense for an indigent defendant, the attorneys are deprived of property in the form of money.  We conclude that attorneys' services are property, and are thus subject to Fifth Amendment protection.

A dissent by Justice Pleicones would find an abuse of discretion by the trial judge:

As noted by the majority, the sole basis for denying Appellant an award of fees in excess of the statutory limit was his unprofessional conduct.  In my opinion, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to consider, as required by the statute, whether the requested payment in excess of the limit was necessary to provide effective assistance of counsel or whether the services provided were reasonably and necessarily incurred.  In my opinion, the trial court should have allowed Appellant to submit evidence as to the reasonableness of his fees, and reviewed it accordingly.  Even in light of Appellant's undeniably petulant behavior, I would find the trial court abused its discretion and would remand the matter with instructions to evaluate the necessity for and worth of Appellant's services.

In South Carolina, the statutory cap is $3,500. (Mike Frisch)

June 22, 2011 in Billable Hours, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)