Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

by
The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court’s review centered on a judgment dismissing claims against an attorney and a law firm that he later joined based upon an opinion letter issued by the attorney in his capacity as corporate counsel regarding the legality of a stock redemption agreement. The Appellant challenged the grant of summary judgment to the Respondents (attorney and law firm) and the amount of attorney fees awarded to them. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing the claims and the awards of attorney fees, and awarded attorney fees on appeal. View "Taylor v. Riley" on Justia Law

by
This was a legal malpractice case that addressed the statute of limitations applicable to professional malpractice claims, how a statute of limitations is calculated when the last day for filing a complaint falls on a Sunday, and whether expert testimony is necessary to establish the prima facie elements of legal malpractice. Plaintiff-appellant Christina Greenfield hired defendant-respondent Ian Smith to represent her in a civil suit against her neighbors. While the suit was pending, Greenfield was charged criminally with malicious injury to the Wurmlingers’ property. Greenfield retained Smith to represent her in the criminal matter. Greenfield was acquitted of the criminal charges. In the civil case, Smith successfully moved to withdraw from representing Greenfield because the attorney-client relationship had broken down to the point where he was no longer able to represent her. Greenfield represented herself at trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the neighbors. Greenfield sued Smith for malpractice, alleging, among other things, that he failed to complete discovery, failed to file a motion for summary judgment on the Wurmlingers’ counterclaim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, failed to amend the complaint to include additional causes of action for abuse of process, slander and libel, failed to file a timely motion for protective order to safeguard the privacy of her medical records, missed several important deadlines, and made no attempt to get the criminal charges dismissed for lack of evidence. Smith filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Greenfield’s claims were time barred and that she could not prove the prima facie elements of legal malpractice because she failed to designate any expert witnesses. Greenfield opposed the motion by filing a responsive brief and her own affidavit setting forth the allegations she claimed supported her malpractice claim, but did not file any expert affidavits. Greenfield argued that her complaint was timely and that no expert witness was required to prove her case. The district court granted Smith’s motion. Greenfield appealed. Though the Idaho Supreme Court found that the district court miscalculated the filing deadline for Greenfield’s civil matter claims (for determining whether her claims were time barred), Greenfield was unable to meet her burdens of proof to support her claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed judgment in favor of Smith. View "Greenfield v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Michael Molen appealed the district court’s summary judgment dismissal of his legal malpractice action. The malpractice action stems from respondent Ronald Christian’s representation of Molen in a criminal case. The crux of this appeal was whether the statute of limitations on Molen’s malpractice cause of action accrued upon Molen’s initial criminal conviction or when Molen was later exonerated. After review, the Supreme Court held: (1) the statute of limitations for a legal malpractice action does not begin to run until the plaintiff has been exonerated of the underlying criminal conviction; and (2) actual innocence is not an element of a criminal malpractice cause of action. The Court vacated the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Molen v. Christian" on Justia Law

by
Counsel for appellant Martin Frantz hired attorney Merlyn Clark as an expert witness in an unrelated matter in 2009. Clark was a partner with respondent law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP (“Hawley Troxell”). In 2010, Frantz’ creditor, Idaho Independent Bank, hired Hawley Troxell to represent it in a contract action against Frantz. In 2011, while that matter was pending, Frantz filed for bankruptcy. Hawley Troxell continued to represent the Bank as a creditor in the bankruptcy, including in an adversary proceeding the Bank filed against Frantz in 2013. Frantz alleged in the adversary proceeding that Clark’s interactions with Frantz in the 2009 matter created an attorney-client relationship and that it was therefore a conflict of interest for Clark’s firm to represent the Bank against Frantz. Frantz also alleged that Hawley Troxell improperly used confidential information Clark acquired in the 2009 matter. The bankruptcy court concluded that there was no attorney-client relationship between Clark (or Hawley Troxell) and Frantz. The adversary proceeding was later dismissed as moot. Frantz subsequently sued Hawley Troxell in Idaho district court, alleging legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court denied pro hac vice admission to attorney Jeffrey Katz, Frantz’ chosen counsel. The district court also dismissed the complaint on the grounds of judicial estoppel, lack of standing, and abatement. Finally, it awarded Hawley Troxell attorney fees under Idaho Code sections 12-120(3) and 12-121. Frantz appealed the denial of pro hac vice admission, the dismissal of his complaint, and the award of attorney fees. Finding no reversible error after review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Frantz v. Troxell" on Justia Law

by
Vint Hughes and H-D Transport, an Idaho partnership, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Pogue and Lawson & Laski, PLLC (collectively Pogue) in a legal malpractice action. Hughes and H-D Transport brought suit against Pogue claiming that at various points starting in October 2011, until present, Pogue had an attorney-client relationship with both Hughes and H-D Transport. In August of 2011, Hughes and Andrew Diges entered into a 50-50 partnership, under the name H-D Transport, to haul hydraulic fracturing fluid. Disagreements arose between the partners concerning the operation and finances of the partnership. On October 21, 2011, Diges hired Pogue to draft a formal partnership agreement. Diges told Hughes that he had hired an attorney to prepare a partnership agreement, and about a month later Pogue, Hughes and Diane Barker, the partnership bookkeeper, participated in a conference call regarding the partnership. Despite the efforts to create a partnership agreement, Pogue, on behalf of Diges, sent Hughes a letter “regarding the problems and irregularities concerning the operation of H-D Transport, and to propose a wind-up of the business.” Pogue filed a complaint requesting declaratory relief, an accounting, and a dissolution of the partnership (the Dissolution Action). In the complaint, Pogue named H-D Transport and Diges as the plaintiffs and Hughes as the defendant. Following trial of the Dissolution Action, the district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law which largely decided issues in Hughes’ favor. Diges was ordered to repay H-D transport more than $50,000, including $1,500 in partnership funds for legal fees paid to Pogue. Following trial, but prior to the district court’s decision in the Dissolution Action, Hughes and H-D Transport filed the present action naming Pogue and his firm as defendants, alleging two counts of professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty and two counts of unreasonable restraint of trade under the Idaho Competition Act. The district court granted Pogue’s motion for summary judgment on all claims, concluding Hughes and H-D Transport failed to establish that an attorney-client relationship existed with Pogue. The Supreme Court found that it was unreasonable, under the facts of this case, for Hughes to believe he had an attorney-client relationship with Pogue. The Court therefore affirmed the district court judgment. View "H-D Transport v. Pogue" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant Patricia McKay appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Thomas Walker and Cosho Humphrey, LLP, in a legal malpractice action. McKay contended that Walker negligently drafted a property settlement agreement by failing to include provisions that would have resulted in a judgment lien against payments owed to her husband which were secured by a mortgage. The district court concluded that because a mortgage was personal property and not real property, the failure to include a description of the real property subject to the mortgage and the mortgage’s instrument number would not have resulted in the creation of a security interest. Based upon this legal conclusion, the district court held that Walker had not breached a duty to McKay and the alleged breach was not the proximate cause of any damages. McKay argued the district court erred in its conclusion. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McKay v. Walker" on Justia Law

by
The district court awarded attorneys fees to Lynn Urrutia against appellants Ty Harrison and Robert Schutte under Idaho Code section 12-120(3), 12-121, and 12-123, as well as sanctions against the appellants' attorney under Idaho Code section 12-123 and I.R.C.P. 11. These awards stemmed from the divorce of Lynn and Johnny Urrutia in 2007 and the divorce decree's division of the marital property. "'The most egregious conduct of defendants,' in the district court's opinion, was the filing of the Third Amended Counterclaim, which 'states two causes of action against Lynn: (1) that the second lien has priority over Lynn's claims and (2) that Lynn as the owner of the property was unjustly enriched.' The judge noted that the Second Lien, with a priority date of 2008, could not conceivably be higher in priority than Lynn's deed of trust, which was recorded in 2007. He observed that the Appellants knew the $220,000 claimed in the Second Lien, like the First Lien, contained numerous items that did not constitute improvements to the arena property and were not lienable under the mechanic's lien statutes. And, even though the Appellants knew that the owner of record of the arena property was Sundance Arena, LLC, they sought personal recovery against Lynn under an unjust enrichment theory for improvements made to the property, which she did not own." Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the award of fees and sanctions to Lynn Urrutia. View "Urrutia v. Harrison" on Justia Law

by
This case was a permissive appeal of an order denying the appellants' motions for summary judgment. The central issue was whether an attorney who, as counsel for a corporation, issued an opinion letter stating that a stock redemption agreement did not violate the law, could be held liable to the shareholder whose stock was redeemed if the opinion was incorrect and the redemption agreement was later declared void as violating state law. The Supreme Court held that the claim against appellant Richard Riley was barred by res judicata and that there could be a claim against the remaining appellants where the opinion letter was addressed to respondent and stated that he could rely upon it. View "Taylor v. Riley" on Justia Law

by
On May 15, 2012, Karl H. Lewies won the primary election for the position of Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney. Because he had no opponent in the general election, he knew he would be elected as the prosecuting attorney, and he was. He was scheduled to be sworn into office on January 14, 2013. On November 23, 2012, he filed two petitions for review against the county commissioners of Fremont County. One petition for review was on behalf of Flying "A"Ranch, Inc., and others, and the other petition was on behalf of E. C. Gwaltney, III. The petitions sought to overturn the designation by the county commissioners of certain roads as being public roads rather than private roads. In early 2013, the county commissioners, represented by Blake Hall, the deputy prosecutor hired by the prosecutor that Lewies had defeated in the primary, filed motions in both cases seeking to have Lewies disqualified from representing the petitioners in those cases. Lewies filed motions in both cases to withdraw as counsel for the petitioners. In each of the cases, Lewies had named two of the commissioners in both their official and individual capacities. The commissioners filed motions in both cases to dismiss the actions against them in their individual capacities. Substitution counsel entered appearances for the county commissioners in both cases. The court made preliminary rulings that Lewies could not represent any parties in the two cases; that the county would be awarded attorney fees against him personally for having to file the motion to disqualify; that an action against the two commissioners in their individual capacities could not be joined with a petition for judicial review; and that attorney fees would not be awarded against Lewies for having named them in their individual capacities. During the hearing, Lewies contended that substitution counsel should have been disqualified from representing the commissioners and that a deputy prosecutor should represent them. Ultimately the trial court entered a written order affirming its preliminary rulings. After several hearings, the court entered its memorandum decision in both cases awarding the county attorney fees in the sum of $1,185.00 against Mr. Lewies personally pursuant to Rule 11(a)(1), and Lewies appealed. Because there was no legal basis for the award, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Lewies v. Fremont County" on Justia Law

by
On May 15, 2012, Karl Lewies won the primary election for the position of Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney. Because he had no opponent in the November general election, he knew he would be elected as the prosecuting attorney. He was scheduled to be sworn into office on January 14, 2013. On November 23, 2012, he filed two petitions for review against the county commissioners of Fremont County. One petition for review was on behalf of Flying “A” Ranch, Inc., and the other petition was on behalf of E. C. Gwaltney, III. The petitions sought to overturn the designation by the county commissioners of certain roads as being public roads rather than private roads. On January 7, 2013, the county commissioners, represented by Blake Hall, the deputy prosecutor hired by the prosecutor that Lewies had defeated in the primary, filed motions in both cases seeking to have Lewies disqualified from representing the petitioners in those cases. On the same day, Lewies filed motions in both cases to withdraw as counsel for the petitioners. In his supporting affidavit, Lewies stated that he would be sworn in as prosecuting attorney on January 14, 2013, at which time he would have a conflict of interest in continuing to represent the petitioners. In each of the cases, Lewies had named two of the commissioners in both their official and individual capacities. The commissioners filed motions in both cases to dismiss the actions against them. The court made preliminary rulings that Lewies could not represent any parties in the two cases; that the county would be awarded attorney fees against him personally for having to file the motion to disqualify; that an action against the two commissioners in their individual capacities could not be joined with a petition for judicial review; and that attorney fees would not be awarded against Lewies for having named them in their individual capacities. At another hearing, the issue of attorney fees against Lewies was discussed. After the parties argued that issue, the court entered a final decision in both cases awarding the county attorney fees against Lewies personally pursuant to Rule 11(a)(1). Lewies timely appealed. Because there was no legal basis for the award, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Flying "A" Ranch v. Bd. of Cty. Comm. of Fremont" on Justia Law