Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Morgan Drexen was described as a "legal software and legal software development company" owned and operated by nonlawyers but provided paraprofessional and administrative support to attorneys. The company provided debt-management services nationwide in conjunction with contracting attorneys, known as "engagement counsel." Morgan Drexen referred to engagement counsel as its "clients" and paid them a minimal fee that passed through the engagement counsel's (or engagement law firm's) trust accounts. Parties Donald Moore and Lawrence Williamson, Jr. served as engagement counsel. Moore was a Colorado-licensed attorney, and Williamson was a Kansas attorney who represented Colorado clients by association with Moore. In 2011, Morgan Drexen applied in Colorado to be registered as a debt-management service provider under the Debt Management Services Act (DMSA). The DMSA Administrator denied the application and issued a cease-and-desist order instructing Morgan Drexen to stop providing its services to Colorado residents and collecting fees. Morgan Drexen, Moore and Williamson filed a complaint seeking a declaration that :(1) they did not provide debt-management services under the original DMSA; and (2) the amended DMSA was unconstitutional. In its review of Morgan Drexen's appeal, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in concluding that Morgan Drexen's services fell within the scope of the legal services exemption in the original DMSA. Further, the amended DMSA was constitutional. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Coffman v. Williamson" on Justia Law

by
During 2002 and 2003, a Colorado state public defender with the Mesa County Regional Office represented defendant Thomas West after the victim's mother, D.S., informed police that she discovered West lying in bed next to her six-year-old daughter with his genitals exposed. D.S. and her ex-husband, D.E.S., both testified at trial for the prosecution. Colorado public defenders had represented D.S. approximately 23 times over the eight years preceding West's case. Although West's trial counsel had never himself represented D.S., the Mesa County Office represented her seven times between 1998 and 2001. D.S. was also a client of the El Paso County Regional Office, where she had an open case during West's trial at issue here. In addition, the Mesa County Office represented D.S.'s ex-husband, D.E.S., five times between 1999 and 2002. West's trial counsel had filed an entry of appearance in one of these cases, although the prosecution dismissed that case four days after that entry of appearance. West's trial counsel did not inform West or the trial court about these possible conflicts of interest. There was no record regarding the conflict at trial. The jury convicted West of sexual assault on a child. Following his trial, West filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion, alleging that his trial counsel labored under a conflict of interest. The trial court found no conflict and denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed, holding that an actual conflict of interest arose from the public defender's dual role as prior and current counsel for D.S. and as prior counsel for D.E.S. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on the analytical framework a trial court should use to resolve a criminal defendant's post-conviction claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on alleged conflicts of interest arising from concurrent or successive representation of witnesses against the defendant. The Court shared petitioners' contention that, under "Colorado v. Castro," (657 P.2d 932 (Colo. 1983)), they should not be required to demonstrate a separate "adverse effect" in addition to a conflict of interest in order to receive new trials. In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim predicated on trial counsel's alleged conflict of interest arising from concurrent or successive representation of trial witnesses against a defendant, the Court held that a defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence both a conflict of interest and an adverse effect resulting from that conflict. View "West v. People" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners Conley Hoskins and Jane Medicals, LLC, sought to vacate a trial court's order disqualifying the Peters Mair Wilcox (PMW) law firm as their counsel. The trial court disqualified the firm on the grounds that the firm previously represented another party, All Care Wellness, LLC, in the same matter for which PWM represented petitioners. Furthermore, the trial court concluded that All Care and petitioners had materially adverse interests. Petitioners argued on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court that the trial court abused its discretion in disqualifying petitioners' retained counsel of choice. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court record was insufficient to support the finding that the interests of petitioners and All Care were materially adverse to one another. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court indeed abused its discretion in disqualifying petitioners' counsel. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Colorado v. Hoskins" on Justia Law

by
The Honorable Robert Rand was publicly censured for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline. The Supreme Court found that Judge Rand engaged in undignified conduct (making inappropriate jokes about the appearance of certain people that appeared before him in proceedings), engaged in ex parte communications with attorneys and witnesses in trials that appeared before him, and failed to promote confidence in the judiciary by engaging in off-the-record conversations with persons in the courtroom, described as "advice or pep talks." View "In the Matter of: Robert A. Rand" on Justia Law

by
In an original proceeding, petitioner Bruce Nozolino sought to vacate a trial court's order that disqualified the Office of the State Public Defender as his counsel. The trial court made the disqualification after it found that a conflict existed and was not waivable. On appeal to the Supreme Court, petitioner argued the trial court abused its discretion in its disqualification order. "Contrary to the trial court's ruling, our analysis of the factors critical to the determination of whether Nozolino must be allowed to waive conflict-free representation convince[d] us that the balance weigh[ed] in favor of Nozolino's preference for continued representation by [the Office of the Public Defender]." Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case for an advisement on record so that Nozolino could decide whether to waive conflict-free representation. View "In re Colorado v. Nozolino" on Justia Law

by
This case came before the Supreme Court from a personal injury case against a restaurant that ended with allegations of a party contracting a food-borne illness. THe plaintiff sought to have a small out-of-state law firm that specializes in food-borne illness claims admitted pro hac vice to help in the litigation. The defendant objected on grounds that defense counsel had previously consulted with an attorney at the the out-of-state-firm about her case and her trial strategy. The trial court denied the out-of-state firm's motion, thus disqualifying it from representing plaintiff. On appeal to the Supreme Court, plaintiff argued that Colo. RPC 1.7 applied only to situations where an attorney-client relationship was established, and that the trial court's disqualification was the trial court's abuse of discretion. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order, holding that: (1) the consultation between defense counsel and out-of-state counsel concerned confidential information (which created a conflict under Colo. RPC 1.7; and, (2) the conflict was not waivable. View "In re Liebnow v. Boston Enterprises" on Justia Law