Articles Tagged with Conflict of Interest

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This legal malpractice claim is a spin-off from other long running litigation filed by Prospect Development LLC against the City of Prospect Heights arising out of a real estate deal that went sour.  The defendant attorney in the legal malpractice action was Robert Kreger. Kreger was the general counsel of Prospect Heights until 2004.

The Underlying Case

The facts of the dispute are set forth in the Appellate Court’s 2012 opinion in the case captioned  Prospect Development LLC v. Village of Prospect Heights, 2012 IL App 103759-U. According to the Appellate Court, Prospect Development, which was owned by John G. Wilson, sought to develop an arena in Prospect Heights. The project was never completed. In 2004, the Village of Prospect Heights terminated the project. Prospect Development sued for breach of contract. The trial court found that Prospect Development had substantially performed the contract with the Village. However, the trial court also found that Prospect Development had unclean hands because it had secretly made loans to Robert Kreger, the general counsel of the Village. The trial court held that the secret loans constituted unclean hands and that the unclean hands barred Prospect Heights from seeking relief against the Village. Kreger had been a partner of a large law firm, Schiff Hardin and had acted as the general counsel for the Village of Prospect Heights. Opinion ¶ 2.

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The plaintiff, Cynthia O’Neal, brought a legal malpractice claim against her former lawyers. O’Neal, an owner of a restaurant chain that fell on hard times, alleged that her former lawyers had a conflict of interest when the represented her company and the opposing party in an assumption of a lease. The court rejected her claim on the grounds that she was unable to establish proximate causation.

In my experience, proximate causation can be difficult to prove. Lawyers make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes breach the duty of care. The plaintiff must tie the negligent act to the damages suffered by plaintiff and come up with a plausible theory as to how the lawyers made things worse and caused the damage.

One area where it is very difficult to prove proximate causation is a legal malpractice claim in the foreclosure setting. The lawyer who defends the foreclosure may miss a deadline or make a legal error. However, that lawyer did not cause the default and did not proximately cause any damages.