Friday, September 29, 2023

Lawyer Ethics In Wartime Explored

Eric L. Muller, the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law, has a new book Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe

It is 1942, and World War II is raging. In the months since Pearl Harbor, the US has plunged into the war overseas—and on the home front, it has locked up tens of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans in concentration camps, tearing them from their homes on the West Coast with the ostensible goal of neutralizing a supposed internal threat.

At each of these camps the government places a white lawyer with contradictory instructions: provide legal counsel to the prisoners, and keep the place running. Within that job description are a vast array of tasks, and an enormous amount of discretion they can use for good or for ill. They fight to protect the property the prisoners were forced to leave behind; they help the prisoners with their wills and taxes; and they interrogate them about their loyalties, sometimes driving them to tears. Most of these lawyers think of themselves as trying to do good in a bad system, and yet each ends up harming the prisoners more than helping them, complicit in a system that strips people of their freedoms and sometimes endangers their lives.

In Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe, Eric L. Muller brings to vivid life the stories of three of these men, illuminating a shameful episode of American history through imaginative narrative deeply grounded in archival evidence. As we look through the lawyers’ sometimes-clear and sometimes-clouded eyes, what emerges is a powerful look at the day-by-day, brick-by-brick perpetration of racial injustice—not just by the system itself, but by the men struggling to do good within it.

(Mike Frisch)

September 29, 2023 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Call for submissions and nominations for Zacharias Prize

As shared by our friend Samuel Levine at Touro Law School:

Submissions and nominations of articles are being accepted for the fourteenth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility. To honor Fred's memory, the committee will select from among articles in the field of Professional Responsibility with a publication date of 2023. The prize will be awarded at the 2024 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Please send submissions and nominations to Professor Samuel Levine at Touro Law Center: [email protected]. The deadline for submissions and nominations is September 1, 2023.

(posted by Alan Childress)

June 14, 2023 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Award for 2022 Zacharias Prize Announced

News reported from Samuel J. Levine at Touro Law:

The committee has made its selection for the thirteenth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility.  

This year's winner is:

Matthew Kim, "For Appearance's Sake: An Empirical Study of Public Perceptions of Ethical Dilemmas in the Legal Profession," 83 Ohio St. L.J. 529 (2022).

Congratulations! (Posted by Alan Childress)

November 1, 2022 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 31, 2021

Submit or Nominate for Zacharias Prize in Professional Responsibility

Thank you to Sam Levine at Touro for the notice of a worthy competition named after an extraordinary scholar of legal ethics and the structure and role of our profession.

Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility
Submissions and nominations of articles are being accepted for the twelfth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility. To honor Fred's memory, the committee will select from among articles in the field of Professional Responsibility with a publication date of 2021. The prize will be awarded at the 2022 AALS Annual Meeting. Please send submissions and nominations to Professor Samuel Levine at Touro Law Center: [email protected]. The deadline for submissions and nominations is September 1, 2021.

[Alan Childress]

May 31, 2021 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Zacharias (very worthy) Prize Winners Announced

The winners have been selected for the tenth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility.  

This year's co-winners are:

* Michael Moffitt, Settlement Malpractice, 86 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1825 (2019)

* Jessica A. Roth, The "New" District Court Activism in Criminal Justice Reform, 74 N.Y.U. Ann. Surv. Am. L. 277 (2019)

The award will be presented at the AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., in January, 2020.

(Alan Childress, via Sam Levine at Touro)

November 10, 2019 in Childress, Conferences & Symposia, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Announcing the Fred C. Zacharias Prize for This Year

This, from our friend Sam Levine at Touro Law Center:

Submissions and nominations of articles are being accepted for the tenth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility.  To honor Fred's memory, the committee will select from among articles in the field of Professional Responsibility with a publication date of 2019.  The prize will be awarded at the 2020 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.  Please send submissions and nominations to Professor Samuel Levine at Touro Law Center: [email protected].  The deadline for submissions and nominations is September 1, 2019.
A worthy competition to honor a worthy professor of the legal profession, whom we miss. (Alan Childress)

August 12, 2019 in Childress, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Doctor In The House

A staff report from the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has issued an advisory opinion concerning the advertisement by lawyers of their juris doctor degrees and other earned academic degrees and professional licenses.

Advisory Opinion 2018-06 replaces a 1994 opinion that addressed the ability of lawyers to advertise their juris doctor (J.D.) degrees while working in other professions or business and communicate the holding of other degrees and licenses while engaged in the practice of law.

The board concludes that the J.D. degree represents formal training in the law and may be displayed by a lawyer in another business or profession even when the lawyer does not actively practice law. The board advises however, that an appropriate disclaimer be added to the display of the J.D. degree in order to not mislead business clients that the lawyer does not provide legal advice or services. The display of other academic degrees or professional licenses is permitted, the board concludes, as long as the information is not false, misleading, or non-verifiable.

The board cautions lawyers that the display of other degrees and licenses should be done in a manner to avoid an implication that the lawyer specializes in an area of law. Specialization in an area of the law requires certification by organizations approved by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Finally, the board concludes that the display of the J.D. in a law-related business such as real estate consulting, title agency, or accounting requires the lawyer to pay close attention to a professional conduct rule dictating the requirements for lawyers to reiterate in writing to business clients that they are not providing legal services that carry the ordinary protections of conflicts of interest checks, attorney-client confidentially, and professional independence found in the practice of law.

(Mike Frisch)

October 14, 2018 in Law & Business, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 14, 2018

All That Jazz: Spoliation In Big Sky Country

The Montana Supreme Court exercised supervisory control in a matter in which it is alleged that Montana State University - Bozeman negligently hired and failed to protect a student from a predatory professor. 

we find that exercise of supervisory control is necessary and proper and accordingly reverse and remand for further proceedings.

The Professor

In 2006, MSU hired Shuichi Komiyama as a teaching professor in the Music Department of the MSU College of Arts and Architecture (A&A). At pertinent times, Komiyama was also the Director of the MSU Orchestra and Jazz Band.

The lower court action

By order filed April 11, 2018, the District Court summarily adjudicated liability against MSU on Plaintiff Breanne Cepeda’s asserted negligence claim as an evidence spoliation sanction pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 37(e).

The court vacated the default sanction.

Concerns about the professor's conduct from many sources led to an investigation by in-house counsel and a spoliation issue

More troublesome is MSU’s failure to preserve all emails associated with the email accounts of Leech, Agre-Kippenham, Letendre, and Komiyama music students other than Cepeda, that may have existed on the MSU email server or faculty computers on June 15, 2011. Apart from an unverifiable, self-serving showing that they likely contained no relevant information other than as referenced in emails retained pursuant to its internal investigation, MSU’s affidavit showings, through in-house counsel, were at best vague or ambiguous as to when unpreserved emails associated with the MSU accounts of Leech, Agre-Kippenham, and Letendre were in fact irrecoverably lost. Further, other than a showing that Komiyama and Cepeda primarily, if not exclusively, communicated by private email, MSU made no particularized evidentiary showing in response to Cepeda’s sanctions motion as to whether and to what extent, if any, emails associated with MSU email server accounts assigned to Komiyama music students would still have been present on the MSU server on June 15, 2011.

Though Leech and Agre-Kippenham retired in May 2011, MSU’s measured evidentiary showing and arguments evince tacit acknowledgment that it did not preserve all of the emails associated with the MSU accounts of Leech, Agre-Kippenham, and then-still-active Letendre that existed on June 15, 2011. Substantial evidence thus supports the District Court’s finding that MSU retained only the faculty and student emails that it deemed relevant to its internal investigation. Based on MSU’s vague and ambiguous evidentiary showing, we cannot say that the District Court’s implicit finding—that MSU breached a duty to take reasonable action to preserve information at least potentially relevant to a reasonably foreseeable adverse claim—was clearly erroneous.


However, the balance of the District Court’s sanctions analysis is more problematic. Without any predicate finding, the court insinuated that MSU failed to preserve the entirety of the subject faculty and student emails in bad faith, i.e., with the intent or purpose of concealing unfavorable evidence. Except for disputable evidence of a breach of a duty to preserve the entirety of music department faculty and student emails, neither the District Court nor Cepeda have cited any non-speculative direct or circumstantial evidence indicating that MSU knowingly failed to preserve any potentially relevant student or faculty email communications with the purpose or intent of concealing unfavorable evidence. To the contrary, MSU’s failure to preserve occurred in the midst of MSU’s own aggressive investigation of Komiyama at a time when the decision to reinstate or terminate him from employment hung in the balance. The only real-time assessment reasonably supported by the limited record before us was that MSU was actively searching for evidence manifesting the propriety or impropriety of Komiyama’s conduct and relationships with students, including Cepeda, in the face of serious and already significantly-substantiated allegations of misconduct. Beyond rank speculation and conjecture, neither the District Court nor Cepeda cited any substantial direct or circumstantial evidence that would support a finding or inference that MSU knowingly failed to preserve evidence with purpose or intent to conceal unfavorable evidence.


We hold that exercise of supervisory control is necessary and proper on the ground that this case presents a significant question as to whether the District Court is proceeding  under a mistake of law which, if uncorrected prior to final judgment, will likely cause significant injustice rendering ordinary appeal inadequate. Upon extraordinary review, we hold that the District Court abused its discretion in imposing default judgment against MSU as a spoliation sanction under M. R. Civ. P. 37(b)-(c) and (e). We therefore reverse that portion of the District Court’s sanctions order and remand for further proceedings in the ordinary course.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported on the lower court action

A Helena judge has ruled Montana State University allowed email evidence about conductor Shuichi Komiyama to be destroyed and so the university is liable in a former student’s lawsuit, which alleges the university is to blame for hiring a convicted sex offender who coerced her into having sex.

Judge James Reynolds ruled Wednesday in Lewis and Clark County District Court that whether it was done intentionally or negligently, MSU’s failure to preserve all staff and student emails concerning Komiyama “irreparably damages” the former student’s ability to make her case and to respond to MSU’s accusations against her.

Preserving relevant evidence is critical to the court’s “search for the truth,” Reynolds wrote, quoting a 2015 Montana Supreme Court decision. “’There can be no truth, fairness or justice in a civil action where relevant evidence has been destroyed before trial.’”

  MSU’s attorneys had insisted that the university did a reasonable job preserving those emails of Komiyama and other evidence that officials found relevant to the university’s internal investigation. That investigation led to the conductor being banned from campus in April 2011 and losing his job.

University attorneys argued that MSU turned over more than 1,700 pages of evidence to the student’s attorney.

They argued that when some emails were deleted or written over by the MSU computer system, it was not intentional but part of routine practice to free up space in the server a few months after students, administrators and professors leave the university.

“MSU should not get the benefit of the systematic removal of email accounts of its professors, students, and Komiyama, and be the only party to determine what was relevant,” Reynolds wrote. “MSU does not get to determine what will be relevant and important in foreseeable lawsuits.”

Relevance is a decision for trial courts, the judge wrote.

Geoffrey Angel, the Bozeman attorney for the former student, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. Anderson Forsythe, the Billings attorney for MSU, referred questions to the university.

“MSU is still looking at the ruling, and the case is ongoing,” the university said in a written statement. “The university does not comment on pending litigation.”

Judge Reynolds ordered that MSU pay the former student’s unspecified costs and fees for her effort to seek legal sanctions. His order did not set any date for determining those costs.

The judge also rejected MSU’s effort to have the former student sanctioned for deleting some of her own email and texts. He ruled that unlike MSU, she is not a “sophisticated litigant” who should know the legal rules.

 Also, the judge wrote, MSU attorney Pam Merrell sent out a “do not destroy” notice in June 2011, two months after Komiyama was booted off campus, telling staff that a lawsuit was likely and so all email, voicemail, videos, calendars, correspondence and other evidence should be preserved. MSU had a duty to ensure that emails and texts weren’t deleted, but “allowed that very thing to happen,” the judge wrote.

The former student originally sued MSU in October 2012, charging MSU was negligent for hiring a music professor who turned out to be a convicted sex offender and who coerced her into non-consensual sex.

The erased email would have been critical for showing when MSU knew of Komiyama’s behavior, including the extent of a 2009 complaint by a former male music student, the judge wrote.

The student’s attorney argued MSU shouldn’t have allowed email accounts to be erased for Alan Leech, interim music department head; Susan Agre-Kippenhan, former dean of the College of Arts and Architecture; Diane Letendre, former Title IX director; Komiyama; Heather Bentz, former assistant dean; Merrell; and several MSU students.

Leslie Taylor, then MSU legal counsel, said in an affidavit she directed that Komiyama’s email account be retained, but the judge wrote MSU decided what was relevant and let the rest of his emails be erased. Taylor did not direct a search of Letendre’s email or save Leech’s account when he retired in May 2011.

“This Court finds troubling,” Reynolds wrote, that while MSU sent out a “do not destroy” message, it still let the system systematically delete accounts. “By allowing the systematic deletion of the email accounts, MSU was able to shape the available evidence and limit (the student’s) opportunity to present her claim.”

(Mike Frisch)

September 14, 2018 in General Counsel, Hot Topics, Music, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility

Submissions and nominations of articles are being accepted for the ninth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility.  To honor Fred's memory, the committee will select from among articles in the field of Professional Responsibility with a publication date of 2018.  The prize will be awarded at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Please send submissions and nominations to Professor Samuel Levine at Touro Law Center: [email protected]<mailto:sl [email protected]>.  The deadline for submissions and nominations is September 1, 2018.

(Alan Childress)


August 16, 2018 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Necessary (Witness) Evil

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the grant of a motion to disqualify an attorney under the 'necessary witness" provision of Rule 3.7

The defendant is charged with exploiting her mother 

The State indicated that the proof at the trial on the exploitation charge would show that Defendant used the victim’s resources, funds, and property to benefit herself to the victim’s detriment all during the time that Defendant was acting as caretaker for the victim. The State referenced a quitclaim deed and a durable power of attorney with healthcare, prepared by trial counsel in 2011 and 2012, respectively, as evidence that would be introduced at trial. The State indicated that trial counsel would be called to testify regarding the preparation of these documents; the monetary compensation, if any, that trial counsel received for preparation of these documents; and the extent to which trial counsel had interactions with the victim. The State also indicated that Defendant used a credit card in the victim’s name to pay $1000 to trial counsel and that trial counsel’s testimony would be necessary at trial to explain the charge and/or payment. Thus, the State concluded that trial counsel was a necessary witness and should, therefore, be disqualified from representing Defendant.


The trial court held a hearing on May 12, 2017. At the hearing, the trial court noted that there was a potential conflict because the trial judge was a former law partner of trial counsel. During argument on the motion, trial counsel maintained that he was never paid for preparing the quitclaim deed or power of attorney, that he was not responsible for the actual execution of the documents he prepared, and that he had no idea whether the documents were actually even used or filed. Moreover, trial counsel informed the trial court that he never had any contact with the victim. Trial counsel maintained that he was not a necessary witness.

The judge recused himself and the new judge granted the motion

Specifically, the trial court noted that the issue relevant to the prosecution of Defendant is not who prepared the documents but rather who paid for the services, who benefitted from the services, and who authorized the services and/or payments. The trial court opined that trial counsel was the only person who could provide this testimony and that the issues were “central to the allegations in the case.” While recognizing Defendant’s right to counsel of her own choosing, the trial court acknowledged that the issues raised by the motion, coupled with trial “counsel’s prior contact with Defendant overcome the deference to Defendant’s choice of representation.” The trial court “reluctantly” disqualified trial counsel, explicitly finding that there was “no improper behavior” and taking no position on “potential attorney/client privilege” matters.

Here the court reviewed for an abuse of discretion

We have been unable to find any Tennessee cases defining the term “necessary witness” in the context of Rule 3.7. However, several courts within the Sixth Circuit have addressed what it means to be a “necessary witness” for purposes of disqualification. In both Ohio and Michigan, whose rules of professional conduct pertaining to disqualification contain language identical to our own rule, there are cases interpreting what qualifies as a necessary witness for purposes of disqualification...Based on the marked similarities to our own rule, we confidently conclude the above-cited cases can and should be used as persuasive authority in rendering our decision.

In this case, trial counsel’s testimony is certainly material and relevant. He prepared a quitclaim deed giving property to Defendant from the victim and a power of attorney with healthcare giving Defendant power of attorney over the victim’s affairs. This evidence is relevant regardless of whether the documents were actually executed. Trial counsel also confirmed that he received payment from Defendant on a credit card that the victim jointly owned with defendant. We conclude that the trial court properly determined that trial counsel is a necessary witness. 

None of the three Rule 3.7 exceptions applied.

We are in somewhat of a unique position, being required to determine whether trial counsel’s testimony is necessary, material, and relevant without having anything other than an indictment charging Defendant with a crime. When placed in this position, the fact that trial counsel has potential testimony, which may be used by the State at trial to build its case, leads us to conclude that the trial court properly determined trial counsel should be disqualified. Thus, while we acknowledge that disqualification of trial counsel as a consequence of an appearance of impropriety is not per se barred, we conclude that the facts of this particular case qualify it as one of “the rarest of cases” in which disqualification is an appropriate bar against that appearance.

(Mike Frisch)

July 23, 2018 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Cavalier Attitude In The Bluegrass State

The Kentucky Supreme Court has denied relief to an incarcerated defendant who was convicted of biting off the ear of a fellow inmate.

The defendant was represented at trial by a public defender from the Pacudah Department of Public Advocacy.

Another attorney in the same office represented the victim in an unrelated criminal matter in which the representation concluded eight days prior to the trial of the defendant.

Defense counsel advised the court of the potential conflict on the morning of trial (with her erroneous belief that the representation of the victim was ongoing). The defendant refused to sign a waiver of the conflict of interest but the trial nonetheless went forward to conviction.

The court here found counsel was not burdened by an actual conflict of interest under these circumstances.

As to the ethics of the situation: "Attorneys ethical obligations under our Rules of Professional Conduct do not define the scope of [the defendant's] Sixth Amendment rights."

Translation: It may have been unethical, but the defendant gets no relief. 

Justice Hughes concurred and expressed concern about Pacadah DPA's "cavalier approach to shielding its clients from intra-office conflicts."

Justice Wright also concurred, opining that a public defender office need not be treated the same as a for-profit law firm for imputed conflict of interest purposes.  (Mike Frisch)

March 23, 2017 in Clients, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Call for papers & nominations: Zacharias Prize for Scholarship in PR

Thanks for this reminder from Sam Levine at Touro:

Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility

Submissions and nominations of articles are now being accepted for the eighth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility. To honor Fred's memory, the committee will select from among articles in the field of Professional Responsibility, with submissions limited to those that have a publication date of calendar year 2017. The prize will be awarded at the 2018 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego.  Please send submissions and nominations to Professor Samuel Levine at Touro Law Center: [email protected].  The deadline for submissions and nominations is Sept. 1, 2017.

A worthy honor to the legacy of Fred, whom I am proud to have known back in the day. (Alan Childress)

February 20, 2017 in Conferences & Symposia, Professional Responsibility, Teaching & Curriculum | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Tale Of Two Attorneys And The Open Range

The Nevada Supreme Court held that a judgment was properly set aside in part due to opposing counsel's misconduct.

The plaintiff was the estate of a man killed when he struck a cow while driving on the open range.

Michael Adams struck respondent Susan Fallini's cow while driving on a portion of highway designated as open range.' Adams died as a result, and Adams' estate (the Estate) sued Fallini for negligence. The Nevada Highway Patrol's accident report indicated that the accident had occurred on open range. Additionally, Adams' family appears to have created a memorial website for Adams prior to the lawsuit, which explained that Adams' accident occurred on open range and opined that open range laws are unjust.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2014

Fallini was sued in 2007 by the family of California mining geologist Michael Adams, who died in 2005 after his car struck one of the rancher’s cows on state Route 375.

The Fallini’s Twin Springs Ranch is open range, and Nevada law protects open-range ranchers from being sued if their cows are struck by cars.

Adams was also drunk and speeding when he struck the cow, according to police reports, but that didn’t stop his mother from filing a lawsuit against Fallini.

The fact that the accident was on open range was an inconvenient one for the plaintiff.

But the defendant made a poor choice of counsel, who is now disbarred.

We hold the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Fallini's NRCP 60(b) motion for fraud upon the court. First, the initial judgment in this case would likely not have been obtained but for Fallini's counsel's abandonment of his client and his professional obligations to his client... Standing alone, that might not warrant relief, as the lawyer is the client's agent and the acts and omissions of an agent ordinarily return to the principal who hired the faithless agent, not those who dealt with the agent in his representative capacity. But here, the Estate's counsel seized on that abandonment as an opportunity to create a false record and present that record to the district court as the basis for judgment. Together, these acts and omissions merited relief.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the Estate's counsel breached his duty of candor to the court. Although counsel may request that the opposing party admit certain facts that counsel already knows or should know the answer to, if the opposing party fails to respond, we hold that counsel may not rely on the deemed admission of a known false fact to achieve a favorable ruling.

One side had a dilatory lawyer who was eventually disbarred; the other an overzealous lawyer who relied on the concession of a falsehood

...counsel violates his duty of candor to the court when counsel: (1) proffers a material fact that he knew or should have known to be false, see generally Sierra Glass & Mirror v. Viking Indus., Inc., 107 Nev. 119, 125-26, 808 P.2d 512, 516 (1991) (providing that counsel committed fraud upon the court "in violation of SCR 172(1)(a) and (d)" when he proffered evidence and omitted pertinent portions of a document to "buttress" his client's argument, and that he "knew or should have known" that the omitted portion was harmful to his client's position)...

We hold that the Estate's counsel's duty of candor required him to refrain from relying on opposing counsel's default admission that the accident did not occur on open range, when he knew or should have known that it was false, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the Estate's counsel committed a fraud upon the court when he failed to fulfill his duties as an officer of the court with candor.

The trial court order on the judgment was reported in the Pahrump Valley News. 

It should have been an open and shut case. However, Fallini’s first attorney, former Nye County Public Defender Harry Kuehn, failed on multiple occasions to perform the necessary legal work to properly defend Fallini’s interests. In fact, Kuehn’s work on the case was so shoddy that he ignored a request for admissions where Adams’ attorney, Las Vegas lawyer John Aldrich, asked Fallini to admit that the accident did not occur in open range.

By failing to deny that one admission, and then failing to do anything of substance to defend Fallini — the judge in the case first sanctioned Kuehn $1,000, then $5,000, then $500 a day at one point during the case — Aldrich eventually won a $2.5 million summary judgment against Fallini in July 2010.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed that award in March 2013, lowering it to $1 million and then remanding the case back to [Judge Robert] Lane’s court...

When the judge’s order came in Wednesday, it complimented Aldrich for zealously representing his client while at the same time accusing the attorney of violating the state’s professional rules of conduct...

The trial judge further stated

“This is not to suggest that Mr. Aldrich is an unethical attorney,” the order states.

Still, Fallini’s attorney Hague blasted Aldrich during the July 28 hearing, accusing him of manufacturing evidence and bending the rules to suit his own needs.

“The court took notice that essentially two plus two equals four and then agreed with plaintiff that two plus two equals five as a matter of law. That is not how the system should work,” Hague told the court. “This is the most egregious case of fraud upon the court that I have ever seen.”

Aldrich said he was taken aback by the verbal assault.

“That is difficult to listen to. To stand there and listen to my integrity being questioned over and over by someone who does not know me is very difficult,” Aldrich said.

The attorney at one point asked the entire argument made by Hague be stricken from the record.

Further reportage from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

If the link to the opinion does not work, try here. The case is Estate of Adams v, Fallini, No. 68033.  (Mike Frisch)

December 29, 2016 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shotgun Divorce: Attorney Disqualified For Exploring Consultation

The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the disqualification of local and national counsel in an action brought against O. F. Mossberg & Sons as a result of a brief consultation with the plaintiff.

The District Court disqualified Mossberg’s out-of-state counsel, Renzulli Law Firm, and its local counsel, Tarlow & Stonecipher, pursuant to Rule 1.20(c) of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. The basis for the court’s disqualification order was a prospective client consultation that Luke Keuffer had with an attorney from Tarlow & Stonecipher, which was later used in a deposition of Stephanie Keuffer by John Renzulli of the Renzulli Law Firm. The court found that the continued involvement in the case by Mossberg’s counsel gave the Keuffers reason to question whether their case can proceed fairly and cause to question what they may have disclosed in the consultation to Tarlow & Stonecipher that may later be used against them in the current litigation. The court also found that Mossberg’s counsel’s actions undermine the public’s trust in the legal profession. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the District Court’s order disqualifying Renzulli and Tarlow & Stonecipher.

Luke and Stephanie were out hunting. She had a Mossberg rifle.

The Keuffers allege that the Mossberg rifle fell and struck Luke’s rifle and then discharged and shot Luke in the face, causing serious and permanent injury. On August 10, 2010, Luke called Tarlow & Stonecipher, PLLC, and spoke to attorney Margaret Weamer “regarding [Luke’s] possible claim against [a] gun manufacturer for injuries sustained in [a] hunting accident.” Weamer’s time record indicates that she spoke with Luke for six to twelve minutes. After discussing the case with Luke, Weamer advised him that Tarlow & Stonecipher would not be interested in taking the case.

The issue came to light at a deposition and led to a disqualification motion

The court found that Renzulli improperly used the Keuffers’ consultation against them during Stephanie’s deposition. The court found that the purpose of Renzulli’s questioning was to intimidate the Keuffers and create an impression they have a bad case. The court indicated the uniqueness of the situation as Renzulli did not use “information learned” from the consultation, but used the fact that the consultation occurred. The court concluded that this was equally a violation of the Rules because Renzulli used the consultation to intimidate and create an adverse inference about the Keuffers’ case. The District Court disqualified Mossberg’s counsel because their actions defeat the purpose of the Rules of Professional Conduct which threatens the public’s trust in the legal system.

The court

In this case...Renzulli consciously used the information learned in Luke’s consultation with Tarlow & Stonecipher for tactical litigation purposes.

The majority concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion in ordering disqualification.

Justice Beth Baker dissented

The District Court found that Mossberg’s counsel did not use or reveal information learned from the phone conversation in violation of Rule 1.20(b). The court concluded, however, that there was “no reason why the rule should not be equally applicable when an attorney uses the fact that they consulted with a party and declined to represent that party to intimidate that party or to create an adverse inference about that party’s case.” The court concluded further that “knowing that certain information was not disclosed may be just as harmful as information that was disclosed.” The District Court made no finding that Luke disclosed information that could be significantly harmful to him in the case, and acknowledged that “it is not clear what information was disclosed/learned during Luke’s 6-12 minute consultation with Weamer.” It found nonetheless that “defense counsel used the fact that a consultation even occurred against the [Keuffers] in a significantly harmful manner...

Here, Renzulli used Luke’s communication with Weamer during his deposition of Stephanie as a litigation tactic to imply that the Keuffers had a weak case. Renzulli’s questioning demonstrated a lack of professional, courteous, and civil attitude toward not only the Keuffers, but to the legal system. Renzulli’s attempt to harass and intimidate the Keuffers was out of bounds. Even though the District Court found as a matter of fact that Renzulli did not reveal any specific information that Luke divulged to Weamer, the District Court properly recognized that Luke’s communication to Tarlow & Stonecipher of “the facts” that prompted him to seek legal assistance was not to be “used” against him by counsel for the adverse party. Accord Perry, ¶¶ 29-30 (analyzing whether an attorney violated her duty of confidentiality to a prospective client). See also M. R. Prof. Cond. Preamble ¶ 18. Renzulli acknowledged that he was attempting to do just that by suggesting that the Keuffers had to shop the case around before they could find a lawyer who was willing to take it...

The interests of Renzulli’s client—about whom the Court is noticeably silent— also are entitled to consideration before disqualifying counsel of its choice. Recognizing that a party “must not be lightly separated from her counsel of choice,” we have suggested that disqualification of counsel should not be used for punitive purposes.

Justice Laurie McKinnon also dissented

In my opinion, the District Court abused its discretion in imposing the severe remedy of disqualification, particularly given that the relationship between a prospective client and a lawyer do not impose duties as stringent as between an actual and/or former client and his lawyer. Imposition of such a severe remedy as disqualification should be sparingly imposed, in light of its significant effect in disrupting litigation...Under the circumstances here, disqualification of Mossberg’s counsel was an abuse of discretion when the District Court could have simply precluded the offensive line of questioning by both Renzuilli and Tarlow & Stonecipher and thereby maintained the integrity of the proceeding. The public’s trust in the legal system in not undermined when a trial court perceives an abuse by counsel and corrects it by a fair, proportionate, and measured remedy.

(Mike Frisch)

June 1, 2016 in Clients, Law Firms, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sanctions Affirmed

The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions against an attorney who had represented an unhappy seller of real estate and had purported to represent other client in the litigation.

 The appellant, Keven McKenna, represented Mrs. Wells in those legal battles and he purported to represent  several other plaintiffs as well. The Blanchards filed a lawsuit for malicious prosecution and abuse of process, naming Mr. McKenna and others as defendants...During that lawsuit, the Blanchards became aware, through deposition testimony, that several of the named plaintiffs in the prior cases had not been aware that they had been parties to some or all of the lawsuits filed by Mr. McKenna, supposedly on their behalf...

In his written submission to this Court, Mr. McKenna argues that the trial justice erred in granting the motion because: (1) the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to impose sanctions in closed cases; (2) Mr. McKenna was protected "by the Due Process and Freedom of Speech Clauses of the R.I. and U.S. Constitutions"; (3) Mr. McKenna was immune from sanctions under the Anti-SLAPP Act, G.L. 1956 § 9-33-2, and G.L. 1956 § 45-24-67; and (4) the principles of res judicata, collateral estoppel, statute of limitations, laches, and the law of the case doctrine protected Mr. McKenna from sanctions.

The arguments presented to us by appellant in his written submissions are unpersuasive. Further, Mr. McKenna failed to appear before this Court to elucidate his reasoning for challenging the trial justice’s decision. Thus, we are unconvinced that the trial justice abused her discretion in finding that no attorney-client relationship existed between Mr. McKenna and Nicholas S. Mancieri. See In re Briggs, 62 A.3d 1090, 1097 (R.I. 2013) ("this Court reviews a trial justice’s decision to award or deny Rule 11 sanctions under an abuse-of-discretion standard"). Our review of the record demonstrates that Mr. McKenna received adequate notice of the show cause hearing on Rule 11 sanctions, a point that is accentuated by the fact that Mr. McKenna submitted an objection with supporting evidence, appeared at that hearing to present arguments, and even submitted the testimony of a witness in support of his objection to the motion for sanctions.

The sanctions amount to a tad less than $20,000. (Mike Frisch)

April 18, 2016 in Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Twist On Privilege Law

An attorney's effort to resist compelled disclosure of allegedly privileged information was rejected by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The case involved litigation over drilling rights

In January 2004, the Martins leased the right to drill for and produce natural gas on approximately sixty-one acres (the “Martin Lease”) to Martin Twist Energy Co., LLC (“MTEC”). Pursuant to the lease, MTEC drilled three wells upon the Martins’ property. Subsequently, AIO lent $2 million to MTEC. The loan was collateralized by various oil and gas leases and wells, including the Martin Lease and the wells that had been drilled. MTEC defaulted on its loan with AIO. Thereafter, AIO instituted foreclosure proceedings against MTEC in Kentucky. The proceedings resulted in the entry of an Agreed Judgment whereby the entire right and interest in the Martin Lease and the drilled wells was transferred to AIO in October 2008.

In March 2009, the Martins filed suit against AIO. The complaint set forth multiple grounds, including failure to pay appropriate royalties under the Martin Lease. Counsel for AIO, Scott Kaminski, first appeared in April 2009. Subsequently, AIO filed an answer and a counterclaim against Mr. Martin alleging that he interfered with AIO’s production from the wells by chasing AIO employees off the property with a gun and prohibiting them from working. A court-ordered mediation held in July 2010 was unsuccessful. A settlement offer presented by the Martins was rejected by Todd Pilcher (“Mr. Pilcher”), who was said to be acting on behalf of AIO.

Kaminski withdrew after consulting with disciplinary counsel. He then asserted attorney-client privilege to resist disclosure despite AIO's explicit waiver. He did so on behalf of a Mr. Twist (now deceased)

Rule 1.8(f) of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer cannot accept compensation for representing a client from anybody other than the client unless three criteria are met. First, the actual client must give consent. Second, there can be no interference with the lawyer’s independent judgment. Third, all information relating to representation of the client must be protected as confidential. While Mr. Twist may have retained and paid Mr. Kaminski, the record does not establish how the Rule 1.8(f) criteria were met. Rather, what is plainly established is that no consent was given by AIO.

The attorney-client privilege belongs to the client. Typically, the client alone may waive the privilege. USF &G, 194 W. Va. at 442, 460 S.E. 2d at 688. The only privilege with respect to the Martin litigation belongs squarely with AIO, who is entitled to waive it regardless of the protestations of others who claim to be acting on behalf of AIO. We observe that all parties appear to accept the existence of an attorney-client relationship between AIO and Mr. Kaminski. The record establishes that AIO has expressly waived the privilege and provided documents to the Martins. The trial court’s conclusion that Mr. Kaminski failed to establish the existence of an attorney-client relationship with Mr. Twist and/or 530 West Main regarding the matters at issue with respect to the Martin complaint is not clearly in error and will not be disturbed...

We now address the claim by Mr. Kaminski that the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct apply to this matter such that he cannot be compelled to disclose client confidences. We find that Mr. Kaminski has failed to distinguish the evidentiary attorney-client privilege and the professional and ethical duties of confidentiality. The trial court correctly found that the evidentiary privilege exists apart from, and is not coextensive with, the ethical confidentiality precepts...

Rule 1.6 of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct provides for the confidentiality of information relating to the representation of a client. Confidentiality applies even after withdrawal from representation. Here, Mr. Kaminski recognized his potential duties, consulted with disciplinary counsel, withdrew from representation, and disavowed pleadings. He has continued to assert and maintain confidentiality. Nevertheless, Rule 1.6(b)(6) specifically provides that an attorney may be compelled to reveal information relating to representation of a client so as to comply with a court order. That is the situation confronting Mr. Kaminski. The trial court did not commit clear error when it determined that the West Virginia Rules of Professional Responsibility do not bar disclosure of the contested documents.

The court further held that an attorney may not assert a "blanket claim of privilege" in response to an effort t o compel disclosure. (Mike Frisch)

April 8, 2016 in Clients, Hot Topics, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Carving Up The Benihana Estate

The New York Court of Appeals decided a case involving the estate of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki.

This appeal involves a challenge to the validity of two partial releases of testamentary powers of appointment executed by the decedent Hiroaki (Rocky) Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain. The Appellate Division's order declaring the partial releases valid should be affirmed.

The court discussed the role of attorneys in various instruments prepared before and after Rocky's marriage to his third wife. She had attacked the validity of the releases.

[Attorneys] Dornbush and Shaw were clearly Rocky's fiduciaries. But that is only one part of the equation. The critical inquiry is whether they were either parties to the Releases or stood to directly benefit from their execution, such that the burden shifted to Devon and Steven to demonstrate that the Releases were not procured by fraud.

 Here, the only individuals who stood to benefit from Rocky's execution of the Releases were his descendants. Neither Dornbush nor Shaw were parties to the Releases or stood to directly benefit from their execution (cf. Matter of Gordon, 45 NY2d at 698-700; Fisher, 108 NY at 29-30). If anything, the execution of the Releases all but ensured that Dornbush and Shaw would have no interest in, nor would receive any benefit from, the trust assets...

  Absent any evidence of fraud, one who signs a document is bound by its terms...Because Keiko failed to raise a triable issue of fact that the Releases were signed as a result of fraud or other wrongful conduct, the Appellate Division properly granted Devon and Steven summary judgment.

Justice Stein dissented

 To be sure, nothing in the record provides uncontroverted proof that the attorneys drafted, and arranged to have Rocky execute, the Releases at the behest of the children, only, and in the absence of a request by Rocky. In fact, there is some evidence to indicate that Rocky was present at all of the meetings attended by Kevin and Kana, perhaps demonstrating that the attorneys were not in an attorney-client or agency relationship with the children, but met with them only in furtherance of their professional and fiduciary obligations to Rocky. Nevertheless, all of the conflicting evidence, considered together, is sufficient to create a triable question of fact regarding whether the attorneys were acting on behalf of -- or as agents of -- the children, and not Rocky, when they drafted the Releases and supervised their execution.

Accordingly, I would reverse the Appellate Division order granting summary judgment to Devon and Steven Aoki, and remit the case to that Court...

Daughter Devon is an actress of some note. (Mike Frisch) 

April 1, 2016 in Clients, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Subject Matter" Conflicts Explored

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that there was no actionable conflict of interest in a circumstance

when attorneys in different offices of the same law firm simultaneously represent business competitors in prosecuting patents on similar inventions, without informing them or obtaining their consent to the simultaneous representation...

We conclude that the simultaneous representation by a law firm in the prosecution of patents for two clients competing in the same technology area for similar inventions is not a per se violation of Mass. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7. We further conclude that based on the facts alleged in his complaint, Maling failed to state a claim for relief. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of dismissal.

The story

The plaintiff, Chris E. Maling, engaged the defendant law firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP (Finnegan), including the three individual attorneys named in this suit, to represent him in connection with the prosecution of patents for Maling's inventions for a new screwless eyeglass.

After obtaining his patents, Maling learned that Finnegan had been simultaneously representing another client that competed with Maling in the screwless eyeglass market. Maling then commenced this action, alleging harm under various legal theories resulting from Finnegan's failure to disclose the alleged conflict of interest.

The court reviewed and applied the "subject matter conflicts" doctrine and found that no conflict had been properly alleged

 This court has not defined a minimum protocol for carrying out a conflict check in the area of patent practice, or any other area of law. However, no matter how complex such a protocol might be, law firms run significant risks, financial and reputational, if they do not avail themselves of a robust conflict system adequate to the nature of their practice. Although Maling's complaint does not plead an actionable violation of rule 1.7 sufficiently, the misuse of client confidences and the preferential treatment of the interests of one client, to the detriment of nearly identical interests of another, are serious matters that cannot be reconciled with the ethical obligations of our profession. 

This is a potentially significant holding for patent attorneys. (Mike Frisch) 

December 23, 2015 in Clients, Hot Topics, Law Firms, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2015

When A Client Threatens Suicide

The Virginia State Bar is addressing a difficult issue that attorneys sometimes face

May a lawyer disclose otherwise confidential information to protect a client who threatens to commit suicide?

Rule of Professional Conduct 1.14 ("Client With Impairment") provides guidance to a lawyer whose client's physical and financial well-being is at risk of substantial harm due to the client's diminished capacity. Sadly, there have been many instances when a client facing incarceration, loss of child custody, or loss of income and property has informed his or her lawyer that the client intends to commit suicide. When the lawyer "reasonably believes" that such a threat is credible, the lawyer "may take reasonably necessary protective action" on behalf of the client. Neither the Rule nor the Comments which follow it specifically address a client's threat of suicide, but the Rule should be interpreted to allow the lawyer to contact the client's family, close friends, mental health care providers, or emergency medical services personnel so that an intervention can be made to save the client from harm. Lawyers who take protective action consistent with Rule 1.14 do not violate Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 ("Confidentiality of Information") because Rule 1.6(a) permits disclosures which are "impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation". Lawyers must nonetheless adhere to the requirement of Rule 1.14(c) to reveal otherwise confidential information "only to the extent reasonably necessary to protect the client's interests."

The Standing Committee on Legal Ethics has opined that it is not a violation of the ethical duty of confidentiality for a lawyer to disclose to appropriate authorities a client's stated intention to commit suicide. See LEO 560

(Mike Frisch)

December 4, 2015 in Clients, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Zacharias Prize Recipients Named

Samuel Levine of Touro Law Center has announced that the winners have  been selected for the sixth annual Fred C. Zacharias Memorial Prize for Scholarship in Professional Responsibility.  The Prize will be awarded to Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, for her article Judging Multidistrict Litigation, 90 NYU L. Rev. 71 (2015), and Morris A. Ratner, for Class Counsel as Litigation Funders, 28 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 271 (2015). The Prize will be awarded at the AALS Annual Meeting in New York in January. Congrats! (Alan Childress)

November 17, 2015 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts, Law & Business, Professional Responsibility | Permalink | Comments (0)