Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & 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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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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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

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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

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In 2000, Gregory T. Ludlow, S. Reid Ludlow, and Jean E. Cowles entered into an exclusive listing agreement with real estate brokerage firm Gibbons-White, Inc. for the sale of approximately 131 acres of vacant land in Boulder County. Over the next seven years, the Sellers received offers from at least three different buyers to purchase portions of the land; none of the offers resulted in a completed sale. In 2007, Actis, LLC made an offer to purchase half of the land. The issue before the Supreme Court in this matter stemmed from that offer. The Court concluded that to sustain a professional malpractice claim against a transactional real estate broker, a plaintiff must show that but for the alleged negligent acts of the broker he either:(1) would have been able to obtain a better deal in the underlying transaction; or (2) would have been better off by walking away from the underlying transaction. The Court concluded that the Sellers here failed to present evidence of damages because they did not establish beyond mere speculation they suffered a financial loss because of the transactional brokers' professional negligence. View "Gibbons v. Ludlow" on Justia Law

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Cherokee Metropolitan District intervened in a lawsuit to try to minimize the loss of its water rights to some of its wells. In a separate legal malpractice action, Cherokee sued its former attorneys James Felt and James Culichia, and their firm Felt, Monson & Culichia, LLC (collectively "FMC"), alleging that FMC's negligence led to the eventual loss of those water rights. FMC sought to intervene in the water rights action, arguing that intervention was necessary in order to minimize damages it may have suffered in the legal malpractice case. The water court denied FMC's motion to intervene. FMC appealed. The Supreme Court found that despite taking opposite sides in the malpractice action, Cherokee and FMC shared an identical interest in the underlying water rights litigation. Because FMC did not made a compelling showing that Cherokee could not adequately represent the interest that it shared with Cherokee, the Court affirmed the water court's denial of FMC's motion to intervene as of right. Similarly, the Court dismissed FMC's appeal of the water court's denial of FMC's motion for permissive intervention because the water court did not abuse its discretion. View "Cherokee Metro. Dist. v. Felt, Monson & Culichia LLC" on Justia Law

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After losing on her Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim at the county court, Elizabeth Flood's trial counsel, Gary Merenstein, paid the fees of several appellate attorneys who represented Flood in an appeal to the district court and later to the Supreme Court because they were not willing to work on a contingency basis. Flood ultimately prevailed in her appeal, and the Supreme Court awarded attorneys' fees. On remand to the county court to determine Flood's entitlement to and the amount of the attorneys' fees, the opposing party, debt collector Mercantile Adjustment Bureau(MAB), argued that Flood was not entitled to receive attorneys' fees for her appellate counsel's work. MAB argued that the arrangement between Merenstein and Flood, wherein he agreed to pay her appellate attorneys' fees and expected to be reimbursed for these fees from any court award of attorneys' fees received by Flood, constituted unethical financial assistance of a client in violation of Rule 1.8(e) of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The county court rejected MAB's argument and awarded Flood the requested attorneys' fees. MAB appealed to the district court, which affirmed the county court. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Merenstein did not violate Rule 1.8(e) by paying the fees of Flood's appellate counsel and therefore affirmed the district court's decision in part. However, the Court concluded that the district court erred in applying the Colorado Appellate Rules, which require an appellee to make her request for attorneys' fees in her answer brief, to an appeal to the district court from the county court. The Court reversed that part of the district court's ruling applying the Colorado Appellate Rules to deny Flood's request for attorneys' fees incurred in the current appeal. The case was remanded to the district court to return it to the county court for proceedings to determine whether Flood was entitled to appellate fees as the prevailing party in this appeal and, if so, the amount of Flood's reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with this appeal—including the proceedings before the Supreme Court. View "Mercantile Adjustment Bureau v. Flood" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Amanda Vinton, Esq. sought relief from orders of the probate court that permitted Respondent Sharon Virzi to amend her challenge to a trust administration by adding a claim of fraud against Vinton, the attorney for the trustee. Over Petitioner's objection, the probate court summarily granted Respondent's motion to amend, forcing Petitioner to withdraw as counsel for the trustee. The probate court subsequently summarily denied two motions by Petitioner to dismiss the claim against her and ordered her to pay Respondent's attorney fees for having to defend against a substantially frivolous and groundless motion. The Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause. Because Respondent's fraud claim was not plead with sufficient particularity to withstand a motion to dismiss, it was futile, and the probate court abused its discretion in permitting the joinder of her opponent's attorney. The Supreme Court found that whether or not Petitioner's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the separate fraud claim was meritorious, the record was inadequate to support an award of attorney fees. The rule was therefore made absolute, and the matter was remanded to the probate court with directions to dismiss Respondent's claim of fraud against Petitioner and to vacate its award of attorney fees. View "Vinton v. Virzi" on Justia Law