Saturday, May 11, 2019

Deathly Silence Gets Attorney Suspended

An attorney who had litigated a civil matter for more than a year after learning of his client's death has been suspended for 30 days based on a recommendation of the California State Bar Court Hearing Department.

The underlying case involved a fire and an issue of insurance indemnification for the client. 

Respondent learned of Alfeo Mattei’s death in or about June 2016 after the Court of Appeal remanded the case but failed to inform the court or opposing counsel, as required by Sonoma County Superior Court Local Rule 4.1(A). Local Rule 4.1(A) states “When a party to a case dies, the attorney for that party shall promptly serve and file a notice with the court.”

At the trial

On April 7, 2017, the first day of trial, opposing counsel asked respondent why Alfeo Mattei was not on respondent’s witness list. Respondent did not respond to the question.

On the morning of April 12, 2017, respondent and opposing counsel conferred with the judge in chambers. It was the third day of trial, but a jury had not been empaneled yet, as the court had been healing pre-trial motions. Opposing counsel commented on the fact that Alfeo Mattei had not been in court the last three days, and that he was not on respondent’s witness list. In the presence of the judge, opposing counsel asked respondent whether Alfeo Mattei was going to testify. Respondent did not respond to the question.

During the lunch break on April 12, 2017, opposing counsel searched for information on the Internet and learned that Alfeo Mattei had died. When the court resumed after lunch, the court granted the Weilers’ motion to strike and ordered respondent to file a third amended cross complaint by April 27, 2017. The court vacated the trial dates. Opposing counsel then advised the court that Alfeo Mattie was dead. The court asked respondent if Mattei was dead, and respondent answered “he has passed, yes.”

Sanctions were imposed by the court

The court ordered respondent to pay a total of $31,160 in sanctions to the Weilers. Respondent failed to report the sanction order to the State Bar. The Sonoma County Superior Court reported the order to the State Bar on July 28, 2017.

And

On December 7, 2017, the court granted the Weilers’ second motion for summary judgment, finding that due to Alfeo Mattei’s death, respondent no longer had a basis to claim there was a triable issue of fact as to the intent of the parties with regard to the lease.

On February 28, 2018, respondent appealed the motion for summary judgment. That appeal is still pending.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2019/05/deathly-silence-gets-attorney-suspended.html

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