Sunday, October 4, 2015
The Nevada Supreme Court has provided guidance to lower courts with respect to the proper trial and appellate court approach to attorney misconduct
After the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the [defendant] manufacturer, the plaintiff filed a post-trial motion seeking a new trial based upon alleged misconduct committed by the manufacturer's attorney. The district court denied the motion, but failed to make the detailed findings required by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The Nevada Supreme Court recently issued two opinions clarifying how claims of attorney misconduct must be handled both by the district court and subsequently on appeal. In this opinion, we take the opportunity to summarize those recent developments and to provide guidance to district courts tasked with resolving claims of misconduct. Because the district court in this case failed to make detailed findings regarding the alleged misconduct that might have enabled us to determine whether those cases would have affected its decision, we must remand the case to the district court to reconsider its decision in light of those cases and to make the necessary findings. To assist the district court, we identify some factors that must be considered on remand.
When a party claims misconduct by opposing counsel, the legal standard under which that misconduct is reviewed depends on whether a timely trial objection was made. See Lioce, 124 Nev. at 17-19, 174 P.3d at 980-82. When a timely objection was not made at trial, any review of that misconduct, either post-trial by the trial court or on appeal, is considerably more circumscribed than if an objection was made. When resolving a motion for a new trial based on unobjected-to attorney misconduct, "the district court shall first conclude that the failure to object is critical and the district court must treat the attorney misconduct issue as having been waived, unless plain error exists." Id. at 19, 174 P.3d at 982. To decide whether there is plain error, the district court must then determine "whether the complaining party met its burden of demonstrating that its case is a rare circumstance in which the attorney misconduct amounted to irreparable and fundamental error." Id. And "[lin the context of unobjected-to attorney misconduct, irreparable and fundamental error is error that results in a substantial impairment of justice or denial of fundamental rights such that, but for the misconduct, the verdict would have been different." Id. Thus, in this case, because no objection was lodged at trial, a new trial would only be warranted if Pentair committed misconduct and the misconduct amounted to "plain error."
Trial courts must
On remand, the district court must clarify, at a minimum, whether it found that no misconduct occurred or rather whether it concluded that misconduct did occur but was harmless under the standards of Lioce in view of: (1) the nature of the claims and defenses asserted by the parties; (2) the relative strength of the evidence presented by the parties; (3) the facts and evidence that were either disputed or not substantively disputed during the trial; (4) the type, severity, and scope of any attorney misconduct; (5) whether any misconduct was isolated and incidental on the one hand or repeated and persistent on the other; (6) the context in which any misconduct occurred; (7) the relationship of any misconduct to the parties' evidence and arguments; and (8) any other relevant considerations...when serious and repeated attorney misconduct has demonstrably occurred, the district court's deference to the jury is more limited than if such misconduct had not occurred, and the trial court must carefully consider whether the misconduct led the jury astray and caused it to base its verdict upon something other than the evidence and the applicable law.
The case involves a products liability action against a manufacturer of swimming pool filters. An explosion had cost the plaintiff an eye. (Mike Frisch)