Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A third-year law student intern who prosecuted an assault case under a student practice rule is entitled to immunity from a civil suit filed by the defendant, according to a recent decision of the Montana Supreme Court. The attorney who authorized the representation also was absolved of liability.
The court affirmed a lower court dismissal of the suit:
Spreadbury asserts on appeal that summary judgment was inappropriate because (1) an unlicensed law student may not act as a lawyer in a criminal proceeding; (2) prosecutorial immunity is not available to the law student and her supervisor; (3) the District Court erred in ignoring his claim of criminal contempt based on Wetzsteon’s violation of the Student Practice Rule; and (4) Corn, as Wetzsteon’s supervisor, was personally liable under the Student Practice Rule in the event Wetzsteon is found to be in violation of the Rule.
In granting Wetzsteon and Corn’s motion for summary judgment, the District Court, without analysis, concluded Wetzsteon and Corn had prosecutorial immunity from all of the claims raised by Spreadbury. The court further concluded that Spreadbury presented no facts creating a material question; rather, he merely set forth speculative and conclusory statements. As such, the District Court ruled Wetzsteon and Corn were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. The court dismissed Spreadbury’s complaint with prejudice.
Reviewing the record in this case and the relevant provisions of the Student Practice Rule, we conclude neither Wetzsteon nor Corn violated the Rule. Additionally, had Wetzsteon or Corn failed to strictly comply with the Rule, Spreadbury has presented no legal authority to support his argument that such lack of compliance deprives a student prosecutor or the supervising prosecutor of prosecutorial immunity.
The defendant was charged with assault. He was convicted in absentia when he failed to appear for trial after the case had been continued over his objection. The conviction was overturned on appeal based on a speedy trial violation (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Posted by Alan Childress
I received an interesting reprint yesterday in the mail, intersecting legal ethics and IP practice -- particularly discovery methods in the wake of Qualcomm -- using an empirical research approach and lawyer interviews. William Gallagher (law, Golden Gate U) published in John Marshall's IP law review (also on SSRN) an article entitled IP Legal Ethics in the Everyday Practice of Law: An Empirical Perspective on Patent Litigators. Its abstract:
This article presents preliminary findings from a qualitative empirical study of patent litigators. Part of a larger and ongoing project studying intellectual property lawyers in patent, trademark, and copyright enforcement and litigation actions, this article focuses on ethical decision-making by patent litigators in the pretrial discovery process. The article is based on data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with fifty-five patent litigators and from a detailed case study of the infamous Qualcomm patent sanctions case. The article critically examines how patent litigators perceive of and respond to ethical issues that arise in the discovery process. It also analyzes the structural and cultural factors that influence ethical decision-making, as patent litigators navigate the multiple and often conflicting demands made throughout the discovery process by clients, firms, colleagues, and ethical rules. A significant finding from this study is that the threat of Qualcomm-like discovery sanctions is largely irrelevant to the everyday practice of patent litigators and has had little effect on their ethical decision-making. To-date there are few empirical studies of intellectual property lawyers or of legal ethics “in action.” This study begins to fill that gap.
April 6, 2011 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, The Practice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
This is the dignified name of the online lawyer bidding service created by a New York Law School student, and which merited an article in today's Wall Street Journal. Back when I was in the business world and e-commerce was just beginning, most sophisticated "supply chain managers" put in place online bidding systems for some of their purchased materials. I'm pretty sure it tended to work best with uniform, commoditized products, and it certainly did not favor the seller with a unique value proposition. I'll take $200 worth of summary judgment, please.
Kidding (and the usual knee-jerk "we're different" reaction) aside, there are no doubt relatively commoditized legal products for which this system would work.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The San Diego County Bar Association has a recent ethics opinion on the dilemma faced by a defense attorney questioned by a judge about a non-appearing client:
Analyzing all of these rules and ethics opinions, we conclude that in California, Attorney is not able to answer the judge’s question either way. She is not able to be dishonest with the court due to her duty of candor, and she is not at liberty to disclose the information imparted to her by Client’s mother the night before, because even though that information was not relayed to her by her client and therefore is not protected by the attorney-client privilege, it nonetheless constitutes confidential information.
The more difficult issue is whether Attorney is permitted to say anything at all in response to the court’s question regarding whether she “had any idea why her client was not there.” If Attorney answers in the negative, she is in violation of her duty of candor to the court per Rule 5-200 and Bus. and Prof. code section 6068(d) because she does have an idea, as relayed by Client’s mother the night before. If, however, Attorney answers “yes,” she arguably violates her duty of confidentiality under Cal. Bus. and Prof. code section 6068(e) because that answer would cause a harmful inference to be drawn to the detriment of her client, thus violating Attorney’s duty not to reveal client confidential information. Certainly if there were an exculpatory and unexceptional [see parenthetical note] reason Attorney’s client was not in court, Attorney would be free to reveal that information, because it would not qualify as information “which the client has requested to be inviolate or the disclosure of which might be embarrassing or detrimental to the client” (Cal. State Bar Formal Op. 1993-133 [citing Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. Nos. 1980-52 and 1981-58]).
Under our facts, Attorney’s only ethical option is to inform the court respectfully that due to applicable ethical rules she is not at liberty to answer the question.
Hat tip to Wally Mlyniec for passing this along. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, March 21, 2011
The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the grant of habeas corpus relief to a defendant who had been charged with kipnapping and pled guilty to false imprisonment. After serving a sentence of probation, the defendant (a lawful permanent resident from Uzbekistan) was scheduled for deportation. He then moved to vacate his plea. The State appealed the grant of the writ.
The kidnapping charges arose from an incident where the defendant was driving a car with a friend in the passenger seat. They
came upon a young woman, in whom [the friend] had a romantic interest, and they pulled up to her. [The friend] got out and physically forced the victim into the car, telling her that he loved her; the men drove around for a few minutes; and they released her near the place they had picked her up.
One attorney represented both defendants in the ensuing criminal case. The friend retained and paid the attorney. The defendant never met with the attorney outside the presence of the friend or the friend's family. The attorney never raised the issue of potential conflicts or told the defendant her could secure his own counsel. Nor did the attorney advise the defendant of possible deportation. (Mike Frisch)
Sunday, March 20, 2011
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department held that a trial court had properly denied a motion to dismiss a legal malpractice action:
This action alleging legal malpractice arose out of defendants' representation of plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by Victoria Gallegos alleging employment discrimination against nonparty Elite Model Management Corp.; plaintiff, a 10% shareholder; and Elite's majority shareholder, director of finance and co-president. A bifurcated trial resulted in a verdict of liability against the Elite defendants and an award to Gallegos of approximately $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $2.6 million in punitive damages against the corporate defendant. On appeal, this Court affirmed the liability verdict but vacated the damages award and remanded the matter for a new trial on the issue of damages.
The instant complaint states a cause of action for legal malpractice by alleging that defendants were negligent in failing to proffer evidence at trial that plaintiff was no longer president of Elite when Gallegos's employment commenced, had limited authority to respond to Gallegos's complaints, and did not approve of or participate in the termination of Gallegos's employment, and that but for this negligence plaintiff would have been exonerated of liability and would not have incurred damages. Plaintiff also alleges sufficiently that Curtin mishandled the Gallegos in-house complaint and failed to apprise her of Gallegos's early settlement demand in the amount of $50,000.
The complaint further alleges that defendants' joint representation of all the Elite defendants in the Gallegos action, in violation of Code of Professional Responsibility DR 5-105 (22 NYCRR 1200.24) (effective through March 31, 2009), divided their loyalties and prevented them from asserting the defense that plaintiff's co-defendants were the primary, if not the sole, actors in the decision to terminate Gallegos's employment; because of their joint representation, defendants could not request that the jury apportion liability among plaintiff and her co-defendants, resulting in the automatic imposition of joint and several liability on her (see CPLR 1601). While these allegations of a conflict of interest or a violation of attorney disciplinary rules alone could not support a cause of action, liability can follow where the divided loyalty results in malpractice.
Nor is the defense of the attorney judgment rule available to defendants on this record. Defendants have offered no reasonable strategic explanation for the failure to introduce arguably exculpatory evidence.
The breach of fiduciary duty cause of action is not duplicative of the malpractice cause of action since it is asserted against Curtin in his capacity as a corporate director, not as an attorney.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington has held that a defense attorney's erroneous advice to a non-citizen regarding the deportation consequences of a guilty warranted reversal of the ensuing conviction. The court's majority opinion framed the issue:
The question presented is whether, in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 1473, 176 L. Ed. 2d 284 (2010), a noncitizen criminal defendant can be denied the right to effective assistance of counsel when the defense attorney erroneously assures the defendant that the deportation consequence of a guilty plea can be mitigated.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction, concluding that the prosecutor had "goaded" defense counsel into seeking a mistrial and then securing the conviction at a second trial. The court concluded that the second trial was barred by double jeopardy.
The court recited the facts:
It is undisputed that Petitioner shot and killed his sister's boyfriend, Robert Lee Stewart (Victim). In October 2003, Petitioner stood trial for murder. At trial, Petitioner claimed self-defense. The first trial ended when the judge granted Petitioner's motion for a mistrial. When Petitioner was tried again in 2005, he moved to dismiss based on double jeopardy. The circuit court judge at the second trial denied the motion and the jury convicted Petitioner of murder.
During the first trial, there was a great deal of animosity between the solicitor and defense counsel. Prior to questioning the first police witness, the solicitor explained that there was a videotape made of the crime scene that included graphic images of Victim's body. The solicitor redacted the original videotape to erase the graphic images and presented defense counsel a redacted copy on the day of trial. However, the original videotape, including the graphic images of Victim's body, was shown to the jury. Petitioner's counsel moved for a mistrial and dismissal with prejudice based on prosecutorial misconduct. Counsel for defense argued the solicitor's case was not going well and the State was now privy to his defense tactics. The solicitor claimed the tapes were switched unintentionally and inadvertently. The court found the explanation offered by the State "shocking" as to why "such a huge, substantial, material piece of evidence would be handled in such carefree fashion . . . ." The circuit court judge admonished the solicitor, but denied the motion for a mistrial issuing a curative instruction that the jury was to disregard the fact that they viewed the body of Victim.
During the solicitor's closing argument, she accused defense counsel of unethical conduct in coaching witnesses and implied to the jury that it was their community duty to convict Petitioner of murder. After the solicitor concluded her closing argument, defense counsel again made a motion for a mistrial. Defense counsel contended a mistrial should be granted based on prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument in that the prosecution accused defense counsel of coaching witnesses, and argued facts not in evidence. Defense counsel ultimately argued that the cumulative effect of the prosecutorial misconduct warranted a mistrial. The circuit court judge charged the jury and then heard arguments on the mistrial motion. The solicitor contended her closing argument was justified by the evidence and was responsive to the defense's closing argument, thus, the mistrial motion should be denied. The jury then sent a note to the judge that it was deadlocked. The judge gave an Allen charge and the jury resumed deliberating. After further deliberation, the jury again reported that it was deadlocked. The judge received the note that the jury remained deadlocked as he was about to rule on the mistrial motion.
The circuit court judge noted he had reviewed the motion for a mistrial, the solicitor's closing argument, and his notes from the testimony. The judge found the statements made about Petitioner's counsel, the exhortation to the jury to convict in order to protect the community, and the introduction of the original videotape warranted a mistrial.
The circuit court judge stated, "In my readings of those opinions it's almost as if . . . this court can infer that the defendant was almost goaded into the position of asking for a mistrial. So based on the totality of the circumstances that [have] occurred in this trial . . . I will declare a mistrial . . . ." The solicitor asked if the mistrial was based specifically on prosecutorial misconduct or the comments in her closing argument. The judge responded, "The comments made in closing arguments, I would consider to be prosecutorial misconduct as well as . . . the video tape. . . . It's the cumulative nature of everything." The State appealed the grant of a mistrial and the court of appeals dismissed the case as not immediately appealable.
Almost two years later, the State retried Petitioner. Petitioner moved to dismiss based on double jeopardy arguing the solicitor at the first trial intentionally goaded him into moving for a mistrial. The circuit court judge at the second trial denied the motion to dismiss. In denying the motion to dismiss that judge made two seemingly inconsistent findings. That judge stated:
I am resolving this motion completely independent of whether or not the prosecutor intentionally goated [sic] the defense into making a motion for a mistrial. . . .
. . . . Even if there had been prosecutorial misconduct, it was the fact that the jury was deadlocked that caused the mistrial.
. . . . So regardless of my analysis of what happened in the first trial, this motion to dismiss is denied because it was the jury's being deadlocked that lead to the manifest necessity that lead [sic] to the mistrial.
Shortly after making the above finding, the circuit court judge also found the following:
I do not find that the prosecutor specifically committed misconduct that was designed to elicit a motion for mistrial from Defendant so that the prosecutor would have another bite at the apple, another time to try the Defendant. I believe that the prosecutor was vigorously trying to win the case and not trying to throw the case in the way of a mistrial. So I am for those reasons, denying the motions [sic] to dismiss based on double jeopardy.
The second trial proceeded and the jury convicted Petitioner of murder. Petitioner appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of Petitioner's motion to dismiss based on double jeopardy.
The court found that the finding that the prosecutor had not goaded the defense was clearly erroneous.
Details about the decision from FoxCarolina may be found here. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, February 18, 2011
The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with its Court of Appeals that a trial court committed error when it permitted the plaintiff in a legal malpractice case to introduce evidence that the attorney "emitted the smell of an alcoholic beverage from his breath during the representation, without introducing evidence of impairment."
The court remanded the case for a new trial as a result of errors in the jury instructions.
The opinion of the Court of Appeals is linked here.
The attorney had defended the clients in civil litigation that led to a money judgment against them. He entered a substance abuse treatment facility shortly after the trial. The trial court refused to admit opinion evidence on whether the attorney was intoxicated at the trial and excluded evidence of his post-trial treatment for alcoholism. The Court of Appeals concluded that "there was no evidence [the attorney] was 'under the influence' much less that he was incapable of competently performing his services as a result." (Mike Frisch)
Monday, February 14, 2011
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
For those of you out in the practice world who are curious about how academic legal theory and first year contract law pedagogy might be combined with real world intuitions and experience, I've posted a new article, Metaphors, Models, and Meaning in Contract Law , on SSRN.
The gist of it is this: the dominant metaphor for contract in practice and the academy is "contract as model." One upshot of this metaphor is an article of faith (among lawyers at least) about the rational linkage between what is going on before the fact in the creation of the contract, and what gets litigated after the fact. Sometimes the metaphor is appropriate, and sometimes it is not. I've played with my intuition and admitted casual empiricism that the contract, even in a heavily negotiated deal, is as often the "thing" that Arthur Leff conceptualized in his iconic 1964 American University Law Review article as it is a model or map of the transaction . I've proposed an alternative metaphor of "journey" in which the objectification of an agreement in the contract (a milestone, metaphorically speaking) is often as important as the content itself. The piece contains illustrations I use in class (see Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, above, but you have to read the article to get the context), as well as a discussion of how I use the fundamentals of metaphor theory to explain hard cases in which the parties assert, and judges must choose between, competing legal "algorithms".
Why does there seem to be such a wide gap between the subject matter of the usual first-year contracts course and what practitioners (particularly transactional lawyers) actually experience? My claim is that it is the result of a powerful theoretical system whose hallmark is a closed linguistic system—in the coinage of one noted scholar, “an epistemic trap.” The subject matter of contract law requires dealing with legal truth not just as a coherent body of doctrine, but also correspondent in some way to actual self-legislation of the parties. I propose escaping the trap with a turn to metaphor theory. The underlying metaphor common to prevailing conceptions of contract law, and which demands some form of correspondent truth from the contract (and contract law), is “contract as model of the transaction.” I suggest alternative metaphors of categories as containers, ideas (including “the meeting of the minds”) as objects, and the transaction life cycle as a journey. The goal is to focus on the “subjective to objective” process of the transactional life cycle, and to consider the perspectives of the participants in or observers of the transactional life cycle, and the models and metaphors that shape the conceptual frames from within which those participants and observers perceive and make use of the legal doctrine.
February 14, 2011 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, Law & Business, Law & Society, Lipshaw, Teaching & Curriculum, The Practice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, February 10, 2011
The Florida Supreme Court resolved a conflict in lower court decisions by holding that a "safe harbor" provision enacted in 2002 did not apply to frivolous claims filed prior to the adoption of the provision. Under the provision, a party seeking sanctions must serve the motion on the opposing party twenty-one days before filing it with the court. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, February 3, 2011
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed a criminal conviction nothwithstanding the prosecutor's improper statements to the jury in closing rebuttal argument. The prosecutor asked the jury why the defendant would "want a trial if he's already signed a confession." Then:
Guilty people have a right to trial. That's what we had today.
The court here found that the remarks were an isolated instance, that the trial court instructed the jury that arguments were not evidence, and there was overwhelming evidence of guilt. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, January 8, 2011
A recent opinion of the District of Columbia Bar Legal Ethics Committee deals with obligations to maintain client files. The opinion summary:
As a general matter, there is no ethical prohibition against maintaining client records solely in electronic form, although there are some restrictions as to particular types of documents. Lawyers and clients may enter into reasonable agreements addressing how the client’s files will be maintained, how copies will be provided to the client if requested, and who will bear what costs associated with providing the files in a particular form; entering into such agreements is prudent and can help avoid misunderstandings. Assuming no such agreement was entered into prior to the termination of the relationship, however, a lawyer must comply with a reasonable request to convert electronic records to paper form. In most circumstances, a former client should bear the cost of converting to paper form any records that were properly maintained in electronic form. However, the lawyer may be required to bear the cost if (1) neither the former client nor substitute counsel (if any) can access the electronic records without undue cost or burden; and (2) the former client’s need for the records in paper form outweighs the burden on the lawyer of furnishing paper copies. Whether (1) a request for electronic files to be converted to paper form is reasonable and (2) the former client’s need for the files in paper form outweighs the lawyer’s burden of providing them (such that the lawyer should bear the cost) should be considered both from the standpoint of a reasonable client and a reasonable lawyer and should take into account the technological sophistication and resources of the former client.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
The "Small Business" section of the New York Times has an article this morning about models small and entrepreneurial businesses are using to hire law firms, and strategies the firms are using to serve them. I'm not sure there's anything really new in here, but it does bring up a point that legal educators and young lawyers need to appreciate, particularly for those law grads who aren't headed to the traditional big law associate posting. Lawyers to small businesses are often the first and only outside adviser the firm has ever had. Listen to some of these snippets: "Make sure the attorneys understand your business - who your customers are, what your biggest areas of risk are, and so on." "One issue is a traditional distrust of lawyers shared by many entrepreneurs: 'They see the lawyer as saying no to daring business moves." "I needed access to a trusted source and only to pay for it when I use it, like weekends and so forth. I use my attorney also to brainstorm ideas."
This is consistent with my view that business lawyers (or at least effective or successful one) can't simply give clients the law and expect them to make the integrated business/legal decision. For more on this from a theoretical standpoint (with practical examples), see The Venn Diagram of Business Lawyering Judgments: Toward a Theory of Practical Metadisciplinarity, 46 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1 (2011).
Friday, December 17, 2010
The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court reports:
The New Year will result in some significant changes for out-of-state attorneys who want to appear temporarily in a proceeding in Ohio (pro hac vice).
The Supreme Court of Ohio adopted pro hac vice amendments last year, which become effective Jan. 1, 2011. Pro hac vice is a privilege granted by a tribunal to out-of-state attorneys not admitted to practice law in Ohio to appear before the tribunal on a limited basis.
Amendments to Gov. Bar R. XII of the Rules for the Government of the Bar will:
- Centralize the administration of pro hac vice admission through the Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Services.
- Require an out-of-state attorney to file an application and $100 annual registration fee before applying to appear pro hac vice.
- Establish basic criteria for appearing pro hac vice before a tribunal, including acknowledgement of Ohio’s attorney disciplinary rules and a statement that the attorney has not been granted permission to appear pro hac vice in more than three proceedings before Ohio tribunals in the current calendar year.
- Permit the administrative revocation of privileges to practice pro hac vice if the attorney does not comply with certain provisions of the rule.
Susan Christoff, Attorney Services Division director, said the changes implemented in Ohio bring the state in line with how other states have handled temporary appearances by out-of-state attorneys.
“Attorneys who regularly practice in other states in the Midwest should be familiar with some of the requirements instituted by Ohio because they are similar to what those other states require,” she said. “That being said, it’s important to note that pro hac vice has changed in Ohio, and we want to make sure Ohio’s courts and administrative agencies as well as Ohio judges and attorneys are aware of these coming changes.”
She noted that attorneys seeking pro hac vice registration will be able to submit registration applications electronically. The Office of Attorney Services will maintain an online public directory that includes the names of attorneys who have registered under the new rule and the cases in which they have received permission to appear pro hac vice.
To access more detailed information on the changes, complete the pro hac vice registration process online or access the pro hac vice attorney directory, click on the pro hac vice button on the front of the Supreme Court’s Web site at www.sc.ohio.gov or visit this Web address: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/AttySvcs/PHV/default.asp.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
In an accident case involving an injured motorcyclist, the defendant City of Tampa made a number of objections at trial concerning the behavior of the plaintiff's attorney. The objections were sustained. After a verdict for the plaintiff, the City sought a new trial based on the improper conduct of counsel.
The Florida Supreme Court held that the City was required to move for a mistrial in order to preserve the appeal for a new trial. The City's failure to timely move for a mistrial precludes consideration of the issue.
The court resolved a district court split over the issue. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Over at Minor Wisdom, Ray Ward is starting to share his view from the jury voir dire. More thoughts to come, but the money quote so far is that "while lawyers should not be immune from jury duty, we really should get CLE credit for it." Also, his blog reminded me of his excellent and serious post five years ago at JD Underground on lawyers and depression, Depression, The Lawyers' Epidemic: How You Can Recognize the Signs. [Alan Childress]
Monday, October 4, 2010
The web page of the Pennsylvania disciplinary board reports:
On August 17, 2010, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided a high-profile case involving an attempt by a pharmaceutical company to disqualify the private law firm hired by the Commonwealth to pursue a claim for damages for Medicaid and other program funds spent as a result of off-label marketing efforts by the company.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc., No. 24 EAP 2009, the company had sought to disqualify the Texas law firm of Perrin Bailey, LLP, which represents several states in similar litigation. The company attacked the contingent fee contract between the firm and the Office of General Counsel on several theories, including:
- it restricted the ability of the state to enter into a nonmonetary settlement;
- it was an improper delegation of spending authority;
- it infringed on the General Assembly’s exclusive spending power; and,
- it violated the company’s due process rights by giving a party acting on behalf of the government a financial interest in the outcome.
In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Castille, the Court did not reach these issues. Rather, it decided the case under the terms of Section 103 of the Attorneys Act, 71 P.S. 732-103, which states that no party other than a Commonwealth agency has standing to challenge the authority of the legal representation of the agency. The Court described Janssen’s statutory and constitutional arguments as “cogent,” but concluded that the intent of the Legislature to deny private parties the right to challenge the representation of the Commonwealth was clear.
In a concurring opinion Justice Baer, joined by Justice McCaffery, agreed with the majority’s reasoning, but expressed concern about whether the issue might be moot.
Justice Saylor filed a dissent in which he expressed the view that the constitutional issues raised by Janssen were not subject to limitation by Section 103, and that its efforts to disqualify the firm should be determined by traditional standing analysis.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department reinstated a dismissed action brought by an employee who was represented in an immigration matter by an attorney retained by the employer. The court found that there were issues that could not be resolved on motion:
...even if it could be said that defendant, despite the lack of an expert, sustained his prima facie burden simply by pointing to plaintiff's failure to maintain a valid passport, plaintiff raised an issue of fact sufficient to defeat the motion. Plaintiff's expert opined in his affidavit that in his experience, the failure to maintain a valid passport has never resulted in a person's loss of legal immigration status. Defendant failed to rebut this. Therefore, a trial is necessary to determine whether plaintiff's actions excuse defendant from liability.
Not even defendant makes the argument, advanced by the dissent, that even assuming plaintiff was illegally benched and had a valid passport, it still would have been proper for defendant to petition for a renewal of the visa. In any event, the argument is meritless. First, the dissent places the burden on plaintiff to explain what he was doing during the 16 months he was not working for WFI [the employer] , when it was defendant's burden to negate the allegation in the complaint that plaintiff was illegally benched. The dissent fails to address the fact that defendant presented not one whit of admissible evidence that plaintiff voluntarily separated himself from WFI.
Furthermore, the dissent's view would permit an unlawful and vindictive act by an employer to work to the detriment of an innocent alien. We find it improbable that defendant would have lacked any ability to present these unique facts to immigration authorities and explain the extraordinary prejudice that would befall plaintiff were he forced to make a trip to a war-torn country to validate a renewed visa that could have simply been extended had his employer not acted in a manner contrary to law. Even if the regulations were so inflexible, as the dissent believes, it would have been necessary for defendant to support his position with expert testimony explaining why even under such extreme circumstances his hands were tied. Indeed, as discussed above, the immigration regulations at issue here, including the section requiring a valid passport at the time an application for extension is filed, are hardly self-explanatory, nor is it possible to conclude from their face that defendant had no chance of successfully securing an extension of plaintiff's visa. Accordingly, we reject the dissent's position that Supreme Court was "able to assess the adequacy of the legal services rendered, and require[d] no expert guidance."
The dissent notes that the employer had rehired the employee after the events that were the basis of the case:
The failure of proof on the dismissal motion lies not with defendant, but with plaintiff. Significantly, the reason for plaintiff's "separation" from his employment — whether benching, as plaintiff now maintains, or abandonment of his job, as WFI records indicate — presents a question of fact. Plaintiff has submitted no affidavit in opposition to the motion explaining why he left WFI or what he was doing during the ensuing 16 months; nothing in the record provides an explanation, including the Kuck affidavit, which — as the affidavit of an attorney unaccompanied by documentary evidence — is without probative value (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 563 ). In the absence of a submission, in admissible form, attesting that plaintiff at all times met the conditions of his H1-B visa, the opposition fails to allege that but for defendant's malpractice, plaintiff could have received a visa extension (see Yong Wong Park v Wolff & Samson, P.C., 56 AD3d 351 , lv denied 12 NY3d 704 ). The expert's submission is thus procedurally deficient, warranting dismissal of the complaint on that basis alone (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 327 ), since plaintiff has failed to provide a viable theory of malpractice by defendant supported by the requisite factual predicate.
Plaintiff's opposition evades discussion of the circumstances under which he left WFI and what he was doing during the 16 months before he was rehired, and fails to address such matters as whether he took alternative employment to support his family (a wife and a child born in February 1999) during this period. The opposition to the motion only suggests, by indirection, that there was some misconduct on the part of WFI in connection with plaintiff's separation from his employment with the company, but neglects to supply any information to support that intimation or to connect it to the conduct alleged to constitute malpractice. Finally, plaintiff coyly offers only the affidavit of his purported expert in immigration law, in lieu of a sound legal argument supporting his cause of action.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court reports:
The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline has issued an advisory opinion addressing two questions that arise from the State Public Defender having a central office and branch offices.
Opinion 2010-5 addresses whether assistant state public defenders located in different offices are considered lawyers associated in a firm for purposes of imputation of conflicts of interest. The opinion also addresses whether there’s a conflict of interest when an assistant state public defender in the central appellate office conducts a merit review, prosecutes an appeal, or pursues a post-conviction remedy asserting ineffectiveness of an assistant state public defender from a branch office.
The opinion finds that assistant state public defenders in different offices are not automatically considered lawyers associated in a firm for purposes of imputing conflicts of interest. The association hinges on whether the appellate state public defender provides assistance to a trial branch state public defender in a trial matter.
The opinion also finds that there is not a per se conflict of interest between assistant state public defenders in different offices. A conflict depends “upon whether there is a substantial risk that the appellate lawyer’s ability to consider, recommend, or carry out an appropriate course of action for the defendant is limited by the appellate lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client, or a third person, or by the lawyer’s own person interests.”
Several portions of two Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct were consulted in issuing this advisory opinion, including: Prof. Cond. Rules 1.10 and 1.7.