Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

by
Jackson filed a pro se complaint against Kaiser under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. After unsuccessfully attempting to serve the summons and complaint, Jackson sought counsel. Jackson never properly served Kaiser; Kaiser never appeared in the action. In April 2016, Jackson retained Horowitz to assist her “with regard to” the suit. Horowitz advised Jackson to dismiss her pending lawsuit without prejudice, believing that she could re-file by September 30, 2016. Although they apparently contemplated that Horowitz would prepare a new complaint, Jackson did not retain Horowitz as counsel of record. Jackson filed a Request for Dismissal prepared by Horowitz. On September 9, 2016, Horowitz informed Jackson that his advice had been based on his misunderstanding of the statute of limitations, which had expired on December 29, 2015, the date Jackson had filed her action. Jackson’s claims are now time-barred. Jackson retained Horowitz on a limited scope basis to represent her on an application seeking relief from the dismissal under Code of Civil Procedure 473(b). The court denied that application, stating that Horowitz’s erroneous advice could not serve as the basis for relief because he did not represent Jackson at the time and did not make an appearance in the case until October 2016, and section 473's mandatory relief provision did not apply to voluntary dismissal. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the order was appealable, section 473(b) mandatory relief is unavailable for this type of voluntary dismissal. View "Jackson v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals" on Justia Law

by
In this child custody dispute, the trial court imposed $50,000 in sanctions jointly and severally against an attorney and her client for disclosing information contained in a confidential child custody evaluation report. The Court of Appeal affirmed in part and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions on the attorney. In this case, the attorney intentionally asked questions regarding a child custody evaluation that included a psychological evaluation which disclosed highly personal information about the child and her family. The court concluded that the attorney's actions were reckless. However, the court reversed in part and held that there was nothing in the record to suggest that the client directed or even encouraged the attorney to disclose privileged information. View "Anka v. Yeager" on Justia Law

by
A responding party's request for sanction-based attorney fees under Family Code section 271 is not a request for affirmative relief. In this dissolution case, the Court of Appeal affirmed the award of sanctions in the form of attorney fees. The court held that, because wife's request for attorney fees under section 271 was not a request for "affirmative relief," she did not run afoul of section 213 by requesting those fees in her responsive pleadings. The court also held that, because this issue was one of first impression based on husband's colorable interpretation of the law, the court denied wife's request that it order husband to pay her attorney fees on appeal as a sanction for filing an appeal that was "totally and completely without merit." Finally, the court held that wife’s request for attorney fees under section 271 was not a request for “affirmative relief,” she did not run afoul of section 213 by requesting those fees in her responsive pleadings. Finally, husband's argument that wife's February 2016 request was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata was foreclosed. View "Perow v. Uzelac" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal held that (1) an attorney does not have standing to petition to compel arbitration of his clients' claims; (2) a signatory to an arbitration agreement can compel a nonsignatory parent company of a signatory subsidiary on an agency theory where (a) the parent controlled the subsidiary to such an extent that the subsidiary was a mere agent or instrumentality of the parent and (b) the claims against the parent arose out of the agency relationship; (3) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by substituting the attorney's clients as the real parties in interest in the arbitration; and (4) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by denying attorneys' fees to a party that prevailed in the arbitration. Therefore, the court agreed with the reasoning in Safari Associates v. Superior Court (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 1400, and declined to follow DiMarco v. Chaney (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1809 . Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with directions for the trial court to enter new orders on the petition to compel arbitration and the cross-petitions to vacate and to correct the award. The court also reversed the trial court's order denying attorneys' fees in the postarbitration proceedings. View "Cohen v. TNP 2008 Participating Notes Program, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Linton fell from her wheelchair while being transported in a county paratransit van and sustained injuries. Linton alleged violations of the California Disabled Persons Act (Civ. Code 54, DPA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code 51) and sought general damages, medical and related expenses, interest, costs of suit, and statutory attorney fees. Settlement attempts failed because defendants insisted on a global settlement amount whereas Linton’s counsel demanded a settlement amount for damages and a separate right to seek attorney fees. After several years of litigation, Linton made a section 998 offer, which provided for judgment in the amount of $250,001, “Plus costs under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032 and attorney’s fees allowed by law as determined by the court.” Defendants accepted Linton’s offer. Defendants opposed Linton’s fee motion arguing that the DPA and Unruh Act require a finding of liability, and the section 998 offer did not include such a finding. The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. While Linton’s section 998 offer provided her the right to seek attorney fees as “allowed by law,” no such fees were in fact “allowed by law.” View "Linton v. County of Contra Costa" on Justia Law

by
After ex-wife filed a civil action alleging that ex-husband siphoned some of the community assets that were subject to a stipulated judgment, ex-husband successfully demurred and obtained a judgment of dismissal against ex-wife's civil action. Ex-husband then moved in the family court under the stipulated judgment's attorney fees provision to recover fees and costs he incurred in connection with the civil action. The Court of Appeal affirmed the family law court's award of fees and costs, holding that the attorney fees provision in the stipulated judgment encompassed these fees and costs because of its broad language, particularly, the phrase "in connection therewith." The court also held that the family law court did not abuse its discretion in deeming ex-husband the prevailing party because he obtained a judgment of dismissal against ex-wife's civil suit thereby achieving his litigation objectives, which was the applicable standard. Finally, the court held that the family law court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $90,000 in attorney fees and costs, and finding that counsel's hourly rates and number of charged hours were reasonable. View "Pont v. Pont" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs in this dispute over the management and the distribution of monetary assets of a family trust. The court held that the trial court properly applied the substantial benefit theory, an offshoot of the common fund doctrine, in making its award of fees from trust assets. In this case, substantial evidence supported the finding that the litigation substantially benefited all beneficiaries and that litigation preserved trust assets when the accounts were frozen. The court explained that the litigation preserved a common fund for the benefit of the non-participating beneficiaries. View "Smith v. Szeyller" on Justia Law

by
The trial court imposed a $950 sanction on Deputy Public Defender Raju, counsel for Landers in a two-defendant joint criminal trial, for violating a reciprocal discovery order. The court found that Raju failed to disclose to the prosecution the name and statements taken from Fletcher, a witness called by Landers’s co-defendant, Lemalie. Raju argued the sanction order was improper because he never intended to call Fletcher at trial, and in fact did not call her; he contends he relied on a state-of-the evidence defense for Landers, putting on no affirmative defense case and eliciting what he needed through cross-examination of various witnesses, one of whom was Fletcher. The court of appeal reversed. Raju did not violate the reciprocal discovery order. Raju had no general obligation to disclose exculpatory information he expected to come from witnesses called by Lemalie. A “sham cross-examination” theory relied on by the trial court is unsupported by substantial evidence, and as applied here, violates due process. View "People v. Landers" on Justia Law

by
When O'Gara Coach moved to disqualify Richie Litigation from representing its former senior executive, Joseph Ra, in litigation, O'Gara Coach argued that Darren Richie had been a client contact for outside counsel investigating the charges of fraudulent conduct that ultimately led to an action alleging that O'Gara Coach and Ra had committed fraud in connection with Marcelo Caraveo's acquisition of luxury vehicles from O'Gara Coach. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying the motion to disqualify Richie Litigation. The court held that Darren Richie could not act as Ra's counsel because he obtained privileged information relating to the pending litigation as O'Gara Coach's President and CEO. Furthermore, Richie Litigation, not just Richie, must be disqualified under established rules for vicarious disqualification. View "O'Gara Coach Co. v. Ra" on Justia Law

by
The Strawns’ home and pickup, which were insured by State Farm were “damaged and destroyed” by fire on June 1, 2009. They immediately notified State Farm. Dennis Strawn was prosecuted for arson, but the case was dismissed in February 2013. In August 2015, State Farm informed the Strawns that it was denying their claims on the ground that Dennis Strawn had intentionally set the fire and Diane Strawn had fraudulently concealed evidence of this wrongful conduct. In August 2016, the Strawns sued, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and elder abuse. The claims for invasion of privacy and elder abuse were also alleged against Wood, the attorney who represented State Farm, and MPP, Wood’s law firm. The trial court dismissed the claims against the attorneys. The court of appeal affirmed as to financial elder abuse but reversed as to the claim of invasion of privacy, which alleged that Wood improperly provided the Strawns’ tax returns to State Farm and its accountants despite their assertion of their privilege to not disclose the returns. View "Strawn v. Morris, Polich & Purdy" on Justia Law