Friday, April 26, 2019

Advice for when you realize you made a huge mistake and will likely get sued...

I often tell my torts students that forgetting to file a claim before the statute of limitations runs is possible the dumbest mistake they can make.  "Buy, and more importantly, learn to use a calendar!",  I tell them.

So what happens if the do make that dumb mistake? What happens next?   Here is some good advice.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

More of a lawyer reacting to TV or Movie lawyers and cases

A couple of days ago I posted a video of a lawyer commenting on courtroom scenes from movies and TV shows.  Because I watched that video on YouTube, the next time I visited YouTube, it recommended other similar videos and I came across a channel called "Think Like a Lawyer" by "Legal Eagle" in which a lawyer comments on many different things, and which has a bunch of videos of him giving very detailed commentary on movies and TV shows, including My Cousin Vinny, Better Call Saul, A Few Good Men, The Bee Movie, Liar Liar, The Rainmaker and more.  He also has a lot of videos on advice for law students.  I watched some of those and I agree with a lot what he has to say, but not all ... but that is the subject of a different conversation.

You could spend a lot of time watching videos on this channel, so save the link for when you have some free time....

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Michigan might be the next state to adopt a duty to keep up with "technology" as part of the duty of competence

As of last year, 36 states had adopted the Model Rules' comment that adds understanding "technology" as an element of competence. Texas was the most recent jurisdiction to do so and Washington DC recently announced it is considering it.

Today, Jurist is reporting that the Michigan Supreme Court has announced a proposed amendment which might make Michigan the next state to adopt a duty to keep up with "technology" as part of the duty of competence.  Go here for the story.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Former prosecutor comments on courtroom scenes from TV and the movies

I recently found this video in which a former prosecutor comments on courtroom scenes from TV shows and movies. She comments on a lot of different aspects of litigation, from substantive issues, rules of evidence, conduct of lawyers in the courtroom and the role of the judge.  The clip is a bit long, but I enjoyed watching it.  You can watch it below or by going here.  She discusses clips from, among others, A Few Good Men, Legally Blonde, To Kill a Mockingbird, Philadelphia, A Civil Action, Class Action, Roman Israel, esq, and from TV shows like Suits, The Good Wife, and The Practice.

There are, of course, a lot of other scenes from movies that could have been included, but there is only so much time...  One I recommend you take a look is the scene of the plaintiff's deposition in the movie Class Action.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Maine court expresses frustration with prosecution's cavalier attitude toward duties related to discovery and misunderstanding of duty of candor

This week, I will spend a few class hours discussing the duties of prosecutors and issues related to prosecutorial misconduct.

As I coincindence, over at the Legal Profession Blog, Mike Frisch is reporting about a recent case in Maine which illustrates some of the issues.

In this case, a defendant charged with driving on expired tags made a standard request for any dash cam video of the incident, but the prosecutor never responded nor sought to ascertain whether such video existed.

At trial, the prosecutor only used the officer involved in the case as a witness.  When the officer testified that there was in fact a dash cam video, the court became interested to know why the prosecutor had not bothered to produce it, and "[t]he court’s patience was obviously tried by the State’s continued  insistence that the video showing the alleged crime being committed had no  “evidentiary value.”"

In its order, the lower court rebuked the State for its approach to its discovery obligations and granted the defendant's motion to  suppress.

On appeal, among other things, the State argued that the court abused its discretion in selecting a sanction that effectively ended the  prosecution.  Yet the appeals court did not buy it. The court recognized that various obligations on prosecutors create challenges and that mistakes happen but affirmed that "[g]iven the substantial responsibility placed on the prosecutors to  provide timely discovery,... it is all the more important that the obligation be treated seriously. The court here expressed its frustration with  the State’s cavalier attitude toward discovery in several ways...  The court further noted the State’s persistent and inexplicable failure to recognize the relevance of the video."

Also, the court explained the prosecution's confusion about its duty of candor concluding that "[i]n arguing that the video was not “exculpatory,” and therefore not  discoverable, the State confuses its obligation pursuant to Rule 16(c) with its  obligation pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963):
The due process  concepts articulated in Brady require the State to disclose to the defendant  evidence that is “favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching . . . .” . . . Rule 16(c), in  contrast, requires the disclosure of items, including video recordings, that are  “material and relevant to the preparation of the defense.” . . .   

In conclusion,
What the State seems to miss in the matter before us, however, is  that there is a fine line between inadvertence and practices that the court  described here as “slipshod.” Carelessness in this critical area of constitutional  rights is not acceptable and is not an excuse. Moreover, the State’s continued  insistence that the defendant “suffered no harm” as a result of the State’s failure  to turn over the video of the crime makes it painfully evident that the State still  does not understand the nature of its obligations. 
          . . . .
The State’s continued insistence that the video of the defendant driving by the trooper was not material or relevant defies common sense and provides full support for the court’s determination that a serious sanction was warranted. The suppression of the evidence, while almost certainly fatal to the State’s prosecution, fell well within the discretion of the court. [and, according to the court, the lower court "plainly used the sanction to educate the State that its casual approach to fulfilling its discovery obligation was unacceptable.
The case us called State of Maine v Reed-Hansen, and you can read the opinion here.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

How to define "the practice of law"

If you are interested in professional responsibility matters, you know that courts and scholars have struggled over the years to define exactly what constitutes "the practice of law."  (Here is an old example.  An ABA commission at one point abandoned an attempt to come up with a model definition, in fact.

Whether it is to deal with issues related to unauthorized practice of law, multijurisdictional practice, practice by non lawyers, sharing of fees with non lawyers and so on, having a standard definition would be helpful.  But the attempts at defining what is practicing law usually end up being over or under inclusive, thus making it difficult to definitively say that, for example, the work of an accountant doing tax code advising for a client is or is not practicing law.

I am writing about this today because I just saw a recent post at MyShingle.com asking "What would be the effect of simply exempting matters smaller than $10k from the definition of the practice of law?"

The author's argument is that we could define the practice of law this way:  "Any matter that involves courts, contracts, wills, advice on rights or obligations that has a value of less than $10,000 is not the practice of law.  Admission to the bar is not required to represent clients in this category of matters."

As she says, this seems arbitrary, but, on the other hand, it is also practical. Why?  Because "[o]ne of the reasons that parties are often unrepresented in certain matters is because lawyers turn down cases that don’t make sense from a financial perspective."

So if people need help with work that requires advise on legal matters that most lawyers don't want to help with, why not let others who want to help do it?

You can read the article here.

As you know, a couple of jurisdictions already have programs that allow non lawyers to participate in the legal process by helping claimants, and participants in divorces, etc.    My most recent post on this subject, with links to older ones, is here.

Friday, April 19, 2019

ABA Ethics Opinion on whether it is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct for a judge to refuse to perform same sex marriages -- UPDATED

Earlier today, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released its latest Formal Opinion (No. 485) which addresses whether it is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct for a judge to refuse to perform same sex marriages.  You can download or read the full opinion here.

The opinion's digest reads as follows:
A judge for whom performing marriages is a mandatory obligation of judicial office may not decline to perform marriages of same-sex couples. A judge for whom performing marriages is a discretionary judicial function may not decline to perform marriages of same-sex couples if the judge agrees to perform opposite-sex marriages. A judge’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages while performing opposite-sex marriages calls into question the judge’s integrity and impartiality and reflects bias and prejudice in violation of Rules 1.1, 2.2, 2.3(A), and 2.3(B) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. In a jurisdiction in which a judge is not obligated to perform marriages but has the discretion to do so, a judge may refuse to perform marriages for members of the public. A judge who declines to perform marriages for members of the public may still perform marriages for family and friends. If a judge chooses to perform marriages for family and friends, however, the judge may not decline to perform same-sex marriages for family and friends.
UPDATE 4/19/19:  The ABA Journal has a short article on the opinion in its April 2019 issue.  You can read the article here.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Devin Nunes files second lawsuit

A few days ago I posted about Devin Nunes' lawsuit against Twitter and others and asked whether it violated the rules against frivolous litigation.

Now comes news that Nunes has filed a second lawsuit and now the question is whether it violates the rules against filing claims for an "improper motive."  Tech Dirt has made an argument that it does.  You can read it here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Yet another attack to the concept of the unified bar: Wisconsin lawyers file suit alleging bar's use of mandatory dues violates their constitutional rights

In what is quickly becoming the hot issue in Professional Responsibility this year, here is yet another news item regarding an attach on the concept of a unified bar.  For my recent posts on this subject, and links to older posts go here.

As reported by Courthouse News, two Wisconsin lawyers have filed a federal civil rights suit against the state’s bar association claiming mandatory membership to the bar association constitutes compelled speech in violation of the lawyers’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because of the dues lawyers have to pay -- or, more precisely, because they don't agree with the way the bar association uses the money paid in dues.

The case is called Jarchow v. State Bar of Wisconsin, and you can read the complaint here.  Among other things, the plaintiffs complain that the Wisconsin Bar Association publishes magazines with articles "on matters of intense public controversy" including advocacy for criminal justice reform, juvenile justice reform, elder law reform and advocacy for restoring funding to provide legal representation to the poor.  They also specifically claim they object to the bar’s advocacy on criminal justice issues, felon voting rights, unemployment insurance fraud, free exercise of religion and immigration law.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

How not to practice law: threaten others and tell them to kill themselves

I have not posted any entries in the ongoing "how not to practice law" series in a while, so here you go:

As reported (here) by Prof. Jonathan Turley:
A prominent real estate lawyer who once described himself in a column as “jungle street skills and a passion for justice” has been suspended for bizarre and abusive conduct. Adam Leitman Bailey told a tenant that he should commit suicide as a worthless human being and even declared “now you’re my bitch.”  The problem is that the tenant recorded the call.  
In a decision by the New York Appellate Division, Bailey was given a four-month suspension and told to get counseling.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Article on Maine's system for providing counsel to indigent criminal defendants

The Sixth Amendment Center has published a short article criticizing the system used in Maine to provide counsel to indigent defendants.  According to the article, Maine is the only state in the country that provides all indigent defense services through private attorneys which makes it difficult to predict and contain costs and to supervise private attorneys to ensure they can and do provide effective representation. The article concludes that Maine struggles with both, as the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services is expected to oversee the representation by and cost of nearly 600 attorneys, handling more than 30,000 cases each year in 47 courthouses presided over by approximately 90 justices, judges, and magistrates, with a staff of just three people. 

You can read the full article here.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

What if a client asks lawyer to destroy the client's file or some of its contents?

Over at Ethical Grounds (the unofficial blog of Vermont's bar counsel), Michael Kennedy discusses a recent NY opinion on whether an attorney has to destroy the client's file upon request.

As Michael explains, ordinarily, upon the termination of a representation, Rule 1.16(d) requires a lawyer to surrender to the client all papers and property to which the client is entitled, which, of course, includes the client's file.  But, the lawyer is also entitled to keep a copy of the file, which, in fact, the lawyer may be required to do according to the lawyer’s malpractice.

The interesting question then becomes, what to do if a client directs a lawyer not to keep to a copy of a the file?

You can read the comment here.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Another challenge to the notion of a "unified bar" -- this one in Oklahoma -- UPDATED

A few days ago I posted a story about a challenge to the constitutionality of the unified bar system in Texas.  See here.

Today's news is that a similar lawsuit has been filed in Oklahoma.

The lawsuit, in a case called Schell v. Williams, filed on March 26, alleges that Oklahoma's requirement that attorneys join the state bar association to practice in the state is unconstitutional because by forcing attorneys to join the Oklahoma Bar Association, the state violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and association

As I discussed in my previous posts on this, this is not a new argument but it is not a frivolous argument.  The question really goes to the core of whether such a requirement is necessary to regulate the legal profession or improve the quality of legal services.  As of right now, there are similar challenges pending in, at least, Texas and North Dakota and the results in these cases will have national implications.

UPDATE 4/5/19:   As I have said elsewhere, the question of whether mandatory membership in a bar association violates the First Amendment is not a new issue, so it is interesting that it is making such a strong comeback. In addition to the cases I reported recently, I was recently reminded by a reader of the blog that there are two separate lawsuits filed on similar grounds in Oregon as well as ongoing longstanding litigation against the Washington State Bar.

In Oregon, at least one of the lawsuits contends that the fact the state bar published a statement condemning White Nationalism and, what it called the "normalization of violence" was "blatantly political" and unconstitutional.