Rutgers: Don’t Look at Me…My Lawyer Made Me Do It

As is so often the case, with mounting pressure and criticism comes finger-pointing. In the midst of a well-publicized scandal, Rutgers University is now suggesting that poor advice from its outside counsel led to a series of infamous decisions regarding its former basketball coach. According to reports, as Rutgers' athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned Friday amid the scandal over men’s basketball coach Mike Rice’s unorthodox practices, he blamed the school administration for following a “process” that allowed Rice to stay on-board. With its back against the wall, Rutgers laid part of the blame on the Roseland, New Jersey law firm that allegedly balked at recommending Rice’s termination.
Continue reading...

When Professional Misconduct = Unfair Trade Practices

The California Court of Appeals recently concluded that professional malpractice and ethical violations may give rise to liability for unfair trade practices. In the underlying dispute, attorney Martin Guajardo, the sole shareholder in his own law firm, sold his practice because he faced disciplinary action brought by the state bar. Although Attorney Guajardo ultimately resigned from the bar, he continued to practice law following the sale of his firm. The People of the State of California filed a complaint against Guajardo, and the new firm, alleging unlawful, unfair, and deceptive business practices based upon Guajardo’s unauthorized practice of law. On appeal, the court concluded that Guajardo’s ethical violations also supported a claim under the state’s unfair trade practices act.
Continue reading...

My Lips Are Sealed: No Liability For Attorney’s Non-Disclosure to Non-Clients

Let’s start with the basic principle: an attorney’s duty runs exclusively to the client apart from limited circumstances of fraud when an attorney may be liable to the client's adversary. The question remains whether an attorney’s decision to keep her mouth shut - i.e. not to disclose key information to the other side – constitutes actionable fraud. According to a recent decision by the Texas Appeals Court, the fact that an attorney did not disclose information to her adversary does not constitute actionable misconduct.
Continue reading...

Attorney Sanctioned for Frivolous Claim

You are what you eat – but for lawyers, you are what you sign, file, verify or plead. An attorney in Pittsburgh just learned this lesson the hard way and is now $20,000 lighter in the wallet. The failure to properly investigate his client’s “frivolous” gun malfunction claim has landed Attorney Jason Schiffman with the hefty sanction after the judge disagreed with the attorney’s plea that he had reasonably relied on his client.
Continue reading...

Case Study: When an “Expert” Lies on the Stand

A Florida defense expert is facing criminal perjury charges for allegedly lying on the stand about his credentials. The defense attorney may be next. Claimed biomechanics expert, John Lloyd, allegedly misrepresented his educational background before testifying that “shaken baby syndrome” is a myth in a troublesome child abuse trial. It was allegedly discovered that Lloyd had perjured himself on the stand but the underlying defendant had already received a reduced sentence. The fallout and public outcry has been significant. This situation calls into question the ramifications for the defense attorney who proffered the so-called “expert.”
Continue reading...

A Lesson in Ethical Attorney Billing

A lawyer stands at the gates of heaven and pleads his case to St. Peter. “I’m much too young to die. I’m only 48.” St. Peter responds, raising an eyebrow: “Forty-eight? Not according to your time sheets." Unfortunately, some attorneys give the rest of the profession a bad name for abusing the billable hour system. Perhaps a lesson in ethical billing is in order.
Continue reading...

Attorneys in the Crosshairs: Limits of the Litigation Privilege

A recent decision helps to define the limitations of the absolute litigation/judicial privilege and serves as a reminder that attorneys are not immune from defamation suits. Notably, attorneys may be on the wrong end of a defamation claim for out-of-court statements concerning ongoing litigation. The litigation privilege and the judicial privilege provide an absolute defense from defamation suits relating to certain in-court statements. However, the protections may not apply outside of formal court proceedings according to a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court.
Continue reading...

ABA says Attorney-to-In-House Attorney Consultation should be Privileged

In a recently published amicus opinion, the ABA took a stand for its position that the attorney-client privilege should protect from disclosure communications between an attorney and her in-house counsel, even if the two attorneys are colleagues. In most scenarios, inter-office communications are discoverable. Privilege may not apply when attorneys consult amongst themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, consultation between client and outside counsel is usually protected from disclosure. However, the ABA’s recent amicus opinion focuses on the narrow situation when an attorney consults with a member of her firm’s designated in-house counsel. Read on for the ABA’s argument.
Continue reading...

Attorney Suspended for Operating a Foreclosure Mill

In a recent consent agreement reached with the Florida Bar Association, Attorney Marshall C. Watson, was suspended for 91 days and agreed to shut down his legal practice for his role in operating a foreclosure mill. The issue: may an attorney be held personally responsible for his oversight of a large foreclosure mill? The lesson: even when an attorney’s work-product is not technically negligent, she may still be in violation of ethical rules and subject to strict discipline.
Continue reading...