Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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David Calvert was disbarred for various ethical violations, including entering into an oral agreement with a client without complying with the requisite safeguards of Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(a). After being disbarred, Calvert sued his former client, Diane Mayberry, for breach of that same oral agreement, claiming that there was a contract between them. The trial court granted Mayberry’s motion for summary judgment, and the court of appeals affirmed. On appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, Calvert challenged: (1) whether an attorney who was found to have violated Rule 1.8(a) in a disciplinary proceeding was estopped from relitigating the same factual issues in a civil proceeding; (2) whether a contract between an attorney and a client entered into in violation of Rule 1.8(a) was enforceable; and (3) whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees against Calvert after finding his lawsuit groundless and frivolous. The Colorado Supreme Court declined the issue preclusion issue raised because Calvert conceded he could not relitigate whether he entered into an agreement with a client without meeting Rule 1.8(a)’s requirements. The Court held that when an attorney enters into a contract without complying with Rule 1.8(a), the contract was presumptively void as against public policy; however, a lawyer may rebut that presumption by showing that, under the circumstances, the contract does not contravene the public policy underlying Rule 1.8(a). Further, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees at the trial level because the record supported the finding that the case was groundless, frivolous, and brought in bad faith. But as to attorney’s fees at the appellate level, because the questions of whether issue preclusion applied in this proceeding and whether a contract made in violation of Rule 1.8(a) is void as against public policy were legitimately appealable issues, thereby making a grant of appellate attorney’s fees inappropriate. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals as to the merits on other grounds, affirmed the award of attorney’s fees at the trial level, and reversed the court of appeals’ order remanding for a determination of appellate attorney’s fees. View "Calvert v. Mayberry" on Justia Law

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In a judicial disciplinary proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the exceptions of now-former Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Laurie Booras to the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline’s (the “Commission’s”) recommendation that Judge Booras be removed from office and that she be ordered to pay the costs incurred by the Commission in this matter. The Commission’s recommendation was based on the factual findings and conclusions of law set forth in the December 12, 2018 Report of the Special Masters in this case. That report concluded that Judge Booras had violated Canon 1, Rule 1.2, Canon 3, Rule 3.1, and Canon 3, Rule 3.5 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct by (1) disclosing confidential information belonging to the court of appeals (namely, the vote of a court of appeals division on a case prior to the issuance of the decision in that case) to an intimate, non-spousal partner and (2) using inappropriate racial epithets in communications with that intimate partner, including a racially derogatory reference to a court of appeals colleague. Judge Booras filed exceptions to the Commission’s recommendation, contending that her communications with her then-intimate partner were protected by the First Amendment and that the recommendation that she be removed from office was too severe under the circumstances of this case. In addition, by letter dated January 2, 2019, Judge Booras advised the Chief Justice that she was resigning her position as a Colorado Court of Appeals Judge, effective as of the close of business on January 31, 2019, although no party contended Judge Booras’s resignation rendered this matter moot. Having now considered the record and the briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission properly found Judge Booras’s communications with her then-intimate partner were not protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, given Judge Booras’ resignation, which she tendered and which became effective after the Commission made its recommendation, the Court did not decide whether Judge Booras’s removal from office was an appropriate sanction. Rather, the Court concluded the appropriate sanction in this case was acceptance of Judge Booras’s resignation, the imposition of a public censure, and an order requiring Judge Booras to pay the Commission’s costs in this matter. View "In the Matter of Laurie A. Booras" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Della Gallegos had to undergo three cranial surgeries after her radiologist, Dr. Steven Hughes, failed to detect an obvious brain tumor on an MRI scan three years earlier. Had Dr. Hughes discovered the tumor in 2006, Gallegos could have treated it with cheaper, and less invasive, radiosurgery. The highly invasive cranial surgeries damaged Gallegos’s vision, hearing, and memory. Gallegos retained attorney Patric LeHouillier to sue Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. But LeHouillier later decided not to proceed with the suit, concluding it did not make economic sense. He and Gallegos disagreed over whether he actually informed her of this decision, and the statute of limitations lapsed on the claims Gallegos could have brought against Dr. Hughes. Gallegos thereafter brought this attorney malpractice case against LeHouillier and his firm, claiming that LeHouillier’s negligence prevented her from successfully suing Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. The question before the Colorado Supreme Court involved who bore the burden to prove that any judgment that could have been obtained against Dr. Hughes would have been collectible. The Supreme Court concluded that because the collectibility of the underlying judgment was essential to the causation and damages elements of a client’s negligence claim against an attorney, it held the client-plaintiff bore the burden of proving that the lost judgment in the underlying case was collectible. Here, the record reflected Gallegos failed to present sufficient evidence of collectibility. However, given the absence of a clear statement from the Supreme Court regarding plaintiff's burden to prove collectibility at the time of trial, and because the issue was not raised in this case until after Gallegos had presented her case-in-chief, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a new trial. View "LeHouillier v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a district court’s order compelling production of a recording of petitioner Kayla Fox’s initial consultation with her attorney. The district court determined that the recording was not subject to the attorney-client privilege because her parents were present during the consultation and their presence was not required to make the consultation possible. Further, the district court refused to consider several new arguments Fox raised in a motion for reconsideration. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the presence of a third party during an attorney-client communication ordinarily destroys the attorney-client privilege unless the third party’s presence was reasonably necessary to the consultation, unless another exception applies. On the facts of this case, the district court did not err when it found that Fox had not shown the requisite necessity to preserve her claim of privilege. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in declining to consider Fox’s new arguments raised for the first time in her motion for reconsideration. View "In re Fox v. Alfini" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a series of transactions in which petitioners Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture Group (collectively, “RMEI”) sold oil and gas assets to Lario Oil and Gas Company (“Lario”). In the transaction, Lario was acting as an agent for Tracker Resource Exploration ND, LLC and its affiliated entities (collectively, “Tracker”), which were represented by respondents Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and Gregory Danielson (collectively, “DG&S”). Prior to RMEI’s sale to Lario, RMEI and Tracker had a business relationship related to the oil and gas assets that were ultimately the subject of the RMEI-Lario transaction. The RMEI-Tracker relationship ultimately soured; Tracker and Lario reached an understanding by which Lario would seek to purchase RMEI’s interests and then assign a majority of those interests to Tracker. Recognizing the history between Tracker and RMEI, however, Tracker and Lario agreed not to disclose Tracker’s involvement in the deal. DG&S represented Tracker throughout RMEI’s sale to Lario. In that capacity, DG&S drafted the final agreement between RMEI and Lario, worked with the escrow agent, and hosted the closing at its offices. No party disclosed to RMEI, however, that DG&S was representing Tracker, not Lario. After the sale from RMEI to Lario was finalized, Lario assigned a portion of the assets acquired to Tracker, and Tracker subsequently re-sold its purchased interests for a substantial profit. RMEI then learned of Tracker’s involvement in its sale to Lario and sued Tracker, Lario, and DG&S for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy, among other claims. As pertinent here, the fiduciary breach claims were based on RMEI’s prior relationship with Tracker. The remaining claims were based on allegations that Tracker, Lario, and DG&S misrepresented Tracker’s involvement in the Lario deal, knowing that RMEI would not have dealt with Tracker because of the parties’ strained relationship. Based on these claims, RMEI sought to avoid its contract with Lario. Lario and Tracker eventually settled their claims with RMEI, and DG&S moved for summary judgment as to all of RMEI’s claims against it. The district court granted DG&S’s motion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether: (1) Lario and DG&S created the false impression that Lario was not acting for an undisclosed principal (i.e., Tracker) with whom Lario and DG&S knew RMEI would not deal; (2) an assignment clause in the RMEI-Lario transaction agreements sufficiently notified RMEI that Lario acted on behalf of an undisclosed principal; (3) prior agreements between RMEI and Tracker negated all previous joint ventures and any fiduciary obligations between them; (4) RMEI stated a viable claim against DG&S for fraud; and (5) RMEI could avoid the Lario sale based on statements allegedly made after RMEI and Lario signed the sales agreement but prior to closing. The Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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Defendants sought ex parte interviews with a number of non-party medical providers in this medical malpractice action. Because of this, an issue arose regarding the scope of the physician–patient privilege in medical-malpractice actions. Section 13-90-107(1)(d), C.R.S. (2017), prohibited certain medical providers from revealing, in testimony or otherwise, information about a patient gathered in the course of treating that patient. That prohibition, however, was not unlimited. The dispute, as presented to the Colorado Supreme Court, did not implicate the physician–patient relationship between Kelley Bailey (“Bailey”) and Defendants, meaning section 107(1)(d)(I) was inapplicable. Instead, the issue here was whether the non-party medical providers were “in consultation with” Defendants such that section 107(1)(d)(II) removed that typically privileged information from the protection of the physician–patient privilege. The Supreme Court held the non-party medical providers were not in consultation with Defendants for the purposes of section 107(1)(d)(II). However, the Court remanded this case to the trial court for consideration of whether the Baileys impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege for the non-party medical providers. On remand, if the trial court concluded that the Baileys did waive that privilege, it should reconsider whether there is any risk that: (1) ex parte interviews with the non-party medical providers would inadvertently reveal residually privileged information; or (2) Defendants would exert undue influence on the non-party medical providers in the course of any ex parte interviews. View "In re Bailey v. Hermacinski" on Justia Law

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In a construction-defect matter filed by a homeowners’ association (HOA) against several developers, an attorney for the HOA previously represented one of the developers. The developers moved to disqualify that attorney under Rules 1.9 and 1.10 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court denied the motion, without what the Colorado Supreme Court described as “meaningfully analyzing for purposes” of Rule 1.9 whether this case was “substantially related” to the prior matters in which the attorney represented the developer. Instead, the Court found the trial court relied on issue preclusion, and found that in this situation, the attorney was not disqualified to represent the developer. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by not analyzing the facts of this case under Rule 1.9, and therefore vacated the denial of the developers’ motion, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Villas at Highland Park Homeowners Assoc. v. Villas at Highland Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case started out of a business dispute between respondent-cross-petitioner Just In Case Business Lighthouse, LLC (JIC) and petitioner-cross-respondent Patrick Murray. To prepare for the litigation, JIC hired Preston Sumner, a businessman with knowledge of business sales and valuation, as an advisor. Sumner agreed to help with the case in exchange for a ten-percent interest in the case's outcome. Murray objected to Sumner's involvement in the case, arguing: (1) Sumner's interest in the case outcome was an improper payment violating Colorado Rule of Professional Conduce (RPC) 3.4(b); (2) Sumner lacked the requisite personal knowledge of the case's underlying events as required by Colorado Rule of Evidence (CRE) 602; and (3) the summary charts Sumner prepared were inadmissible under CRE 1006. The trial court ruled that Sumner could testify as a summary witness, but not as an expert or fact witness. Sumner testified and laid foundation for two of the summary exhibits, which the trial court admitted into evidence. The jury returned a verdict in favor of JIC. Murray renewed his arguments on appeal, and the Court of Appeals rejected them in part, and remanded for the trial court to determine whether Sumner's testimony should have been excluded as a sanction for JIC's violation of RPC 3.4(b). After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held that violation of the ethical rule did not displace the rules of evidence, and that trial courts retained discretion under CRE 403 to exclude testimony of improperly compensated witnesses. The trial court here did not abuse its discretion in declining to exclude Sumner's testimony. Further, the Court held that trial courts could allow summary witness testimony if they determine that the evidence was sufficiently complex and voluminous that the witness would assist the trier of fact. The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion with respect to the summaries. Finding no reversible errors with the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's judgment remanding the case for consideration of whether Sumner's testimony should have been excluded. View "Murray v. Just In Case Bus. Lighthouse, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether dissatisfied beneficiaries of a testator’s estate have standing to bring legal malpractice or claims against the attorney who drafted the testator’s estate planning documents. Specifically, petitioners Merridy Kay Baker and Sue Carol Kunda sought to sue respondents Wood, Ris & Hames, Professional Corporation, Donald L. Cook, and Barbara Brundin (collectively, the Attorneys), who were the attorneys retained by their father, Floyd Baker, to prepare his estate plan. Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to abandon what was known as the "strict privity rule," which precluded attorney liability to non-clients absent fraud, malicious conduct or negligent misrepresentation. The advocated instead for a "California Test" and for an extension of the third-party beneficiary theory of contract liability (also known as the Florida-Iowa Rule), both of which petitioners asserted would allow them as the alleged beneficiaries of the estate, to sue the Attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of contract. After review of this case, the Supreme Court declined to abandon the strict privity rule, and rejected petitioners' contention that the court of appeals erred in affirming dismissal of their purported fraudulent concealment claims. View "Baker v. Wood, Ris & Hames" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a non-attorney trustee of a trust could proceed pro se before the water court. Appellant-trustee J. Tucker appealed the water court’s ruling that as trustee of a trust, he was not permitted to proceed because he was representing the interests of others. He also appealed the court’s order granting appellee Town of Minturn’s application for a finding of reasonable diligence in connection with a conditional water right. Appellant’s pro se issue was one of first impression before the Supreme Court, and the Court held that the water court correctly ruled that as a non-attorney trustee, appellant could not proceed pro se on behalf of the trust. In light of that determination, the Court did not address appellant’s other arguments regarding the sufficiency of the verification. View "Tucker v. Town of Minturn" on Justia Law