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The case is GB v. Christine Rossi, A-240-17T3. The case was decided in New Jersey and is an unpublished opinion. The case illustrates one problem with legal malpractice cases – there may be wrongful conduct, but the plaintiff must tie the wrongful conduct to her damages.

Plaintiff was getting divorced.   She met with Rossi for about an hour and made numerous disclosures. Rossi declined representation.

Later, plaintiff’s husband filed for a temporary restraining order against plaintiff alleging that she had committed domestic violence. At trial, Rossi represented husband. Husband won the trial and GB was evicted from the marital home. Please note that Rossi did not file an appearance in the divorce case. She only appeared in the domestic violence case.

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The case is Yung v. Grant Thornton, 2016-SC-00571 and 2017-SC-00151. The plaintiffs sued Grant Thornton for fraud for placing them in a tax shelter. The IRS disallowed the tax shelter and the Yungs were required to pay $20 million in back taxes and penalties. The Yungs sued Grant Thornton for fraud and, in the trial court, obtained a judgment of $20 million in compensatory damages (for the back taxes they had to pay) and, more controversially, $80 million in punitive damages.

Punitive damages awards were once quite common. They have become far less common in recent years after the Supreme Court decided a series of cases requiring that the punitive damage award be proportional to the compensatory damages award.

The Appellate Court reversed the punitive damages award and the Yungs appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In a thoughtful and detailed opinion, The Kentucky Supreme Court reinstated the punitive damage award!

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One issue that arises frequently is whether or not a criminal defendant must obtain a finding of actual innocence before he can sue trial counsel for legal malpractice. The Kentucky Supreme Court adopted the Exoneration Rule on December 13, 2018, in the case of Lawrence v. Bingham.  The Rule has been criticized by some scholars and lawyers on the ground that it is unfair to criminal defendants and that it allows bad lawyers to escape liability.

The link to the case is below:

https://law.justia.com/cases/kentucky/supreme-court/2018/2017-sc-000531-dg.html?utm_source=summary-newsletters&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-12-14-professional-malpractice-ethics-c3b6da0bc8&utm_content=text-case-read-more-3

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In the wake of recent publicity that lying to a government agent is a crime, 18 USC Section 1001, here is a set of simple instructions should two FBI agents appear in person at your home or place of business:

FBI Person – I’m agent so and so and with me is agent so and so and we would like to ask you a few questions:

Person – May I have your card?…Thank you. I’m going to ask you to talk my lawyer. He will be happy to answer your questions.

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I often receive phone calls and emails from people who believe that they have a legal malpractice claim against their current lawyer. Most of these claims are not malpractice claims, often because the underlying matter or lawsuit is not finished.

So, someone calls and says that her lawyer missed court dates, forgot to take a deposition and did not disclose an expert on time. My question is this: “How much money did you lose because of that alleged mistake by the lawyer?” Very often, the answer is (a) the case is still pending and I hired a new lawyer to fix the mistakes of the former lawyer or (b) I settled the case and received a settlement payment.

If the answer is “a”, there is no legal malpractice case as this time, although there may be a case in the future.

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The case is Davis v. Cohen & Gresser, 2018 NY Slip Op 02542, a legal malpractice case filed against a law firm.

Davis alleged that the law firm allowed the statute of limitations to run on RICO claims by failing to name to key parties in a lawsuit. The court ultimately concluded that the statute of limitations had run on the claims. However, the law firm greatly strengthened its position by producing a copy of a carefully drafted engagement letter. The engagement letter demonstrated that the law firm was not retained to handle the RICO action.  Further, the law firm never filed an appearance in that lawsuit.

New York allows the statute of limitations to be tolled where there is a continuous representation of the client by the law firm. Davis attempted to argue that the continuous representation doctrine applied to his case. However, as the court explains, the engagement letter and the court record demonstrated that there was no continuous representation:

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The case is captioned Robert Iuffues Webb II v. Janice Holmes, 2018 IL App (3d) 170167. Webb, who is not licensed to practice law, alleged that he had assisted Holmes with certain federal litigation. It is not clear exactly what the federal litigation involved. He alleged that he entered into an oral agreement with Holmes that he would assist her with the federal litigation in exchange for $150 plus 10% of any settlement.  Eventually, after the case was filed, Holmes retained an attorney and settled her case.

The trial court dismissed Webb’s complaint and the Appellate Court affirmed. The court based its decision on the Illinois Attorney Act 705 ILCS 205/1 which prohibits a nonlawyer from earning compensation as a lawyer.

Conclusion: obviously the court reached the correct result. What is somewhat remarkable is that these allegations resulted in a published opinion given the well-settled law.

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The case is Alexander Prout v. Anne C. Vladeck & Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C., 18 CV 260 (S.D. New York June 10, 2018). Prout alleged that he retained Vladeck to represent him in connection with claims against his former employer, Invesco. He further alleged that Vladeck advised him to reject Invesco’s settlement offer of $1.0 million and to instead file litigation. According to Prout, Vladeck failed to timely file his claims and some of those claims (Family Medical Leave Act and Sarbanes-Oxley Act) were barred by the statute of limitations. As a result, he was forced to accept a reduced settlement amount. The facts of the underlying employment law claims are complex and the opinion sets those facts out in some detail. The court concluded that the allegations stated a claim for legal malpractice under New York law because the lawyer allegedly allowed the statutes of limitations to run on the FMLA and Sarbanes-Oxley (Whistleblower) claims.

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One issue that arises frequently in legal malpractice cases is – to whom does the lawyer owe a duty? Here, a condominium owner sued the lawyer for the condominium association for breach of contract. The court dismissed the case and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal.

The Colorado Supreme Court followed well-settled law in holding that the association’s lawyer owed no duty to an individual condominium owner. The lawyer represents the association, an organization composed of individual members. Just because a condominium owner is a member of that group does not create an attorney-client relationship.

The Court reasoned that any other holding would hurt the lawyer’s duty of loyalty to his client, the Association. Further, allowing the lawsuit to proceed would allow “an unforeseeable and unlimited number of people” to make claims against lawyers.

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The case is captioned William Molim Siu v. The Cavanagh Law Firm, 1-CA-CV 17-0601 (Arizona Court of Appeals).

Siu sued his former lawyer for alleged negligence in handling Siu’s divorce case. The divorce case was heard by an Arbitrator who ruled that certain property owned by Siu before the marriage became community property when it was deposited in joint accounts. Siu tried to appeal but his appeal [of the underlying case] was dismissed. Siu alleged that his lawyer had (a) contracted away his right to appeal, and (b) failed to retain a forensic accounting expert.

Cavanagh moved for summary judgment and his motion was granted. Siu appealed. The Court of Appeals found that there was “substantial evidence to support the Arbitrator’s decision [in the underlying divorce case.]” Therefore, Siu could not prove that any error by the lawyer was the proximate cause of his alleged loss.