Do Lawyers Have A Duty To Disclose, To The Client, Significant Errors Committed By Co-Counsel?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Ethics (pd)
This was the question posed to the Committee on Professional Ethics of the New York State Bar Association. Its answer was a qualified yes — counsel has a duty to disclose the alleged error to the client but only if it was a significant error that could give rise to a malpractice claim.

The issue presented to the Committee was the following:

The inquirer was engaged to represent a client on the eve of trial. The client’s prior counsel is serving as co-counsel.  In preparing the case, the inquirer has learned that co-counsel conducted virtually no discovery and made no document requests, although the inquirer believes correspondence and emails between the parties could be critical to the case.  The inquirer believes this was a significant error or omission that may give rise to a malpractice claim against co-counsel. The outcome of the case, however, has yet to be decided. The inquirer is concerned about disclosing this situation to the client because it would undermine inquirer’s relationship with co-counsel, but the inquirer also believes it is in the client’s best interests to disclose the facts as soon as possible.

It is already established in New York (and several other jurisdictions, including New Jersey) that lawyers must report their own significant errors or omissions to clients. This requirement is based partly on Rule 1.4 and partly on Rule 1.7, each of which the Committee discussed in its opinion.

Rule 1.4 requires lawyers to keep clients informed about any material developments in their representation, and to explain issues "to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation." A client may decide not to continue to retain a lawyer who makes significant errors or omissions, and the client cannot make an informed decision on this issue unless the lawyer self-reports his own errors. Accordingly, clients must self-report their own significant errors or omissions to their clients. The Committee held that this rationale applied equally to lawyers reporting significant errors or omissions committed by co-counsel because the decision facing the client in both situations was the same — whether to continue to retain the lawyer who committed the errors or omissions — and the client cannot make an informed decision on that issue without full disclosure.

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“Here’s the mail it never fails . . . :” Judge Posner Criticizes “Rhetorical Envelopes” In Which Judicial Opinions Are “Delivered To The Reader”

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Judge (pd)[Apologies for the Blue's Clues reference in the title to this post.]

In his concurring opinion in a recent Seventh Circuit decision — United States v. Dessart — Judge Posner agreed with the majority's conclusions, but wrote separately to express his "reservations about some of the verbal formulas in the majority opinion." He did not "criticize the majority for reciting them" because, as he noted, they are "common, orthodox, even canonical." But he did criticize the "verbal formulas" themselves as being "inessential and in some respects erroneous" and thus, he urged, "ripe for rexamination."

What were the "verbal formulas" that Judge Posner was so keen to criticize? Just some of the legal standards that we see recited in opinions every day. For example, the commonly-used "abuse of discretion" standard, of which Judge Posner appears not to be a big fan. In his concurring opinion, Judge Posner noted that the majority defined this standard as including "among other missteps, 'material errors of law.'" This apparently did not jibe with Judge Posner's understanding of discretion and its abuse, as he explained:

Of course, material errors of law are potentially very serious, but what has that to do with discretion or its abuse? Common as the term "abuse of discretion" is in opinions dealing with appeals from district court decisions, I find it opaque. If the appellate court is persuaded that the trial court erred in a way that makes the trial court's decision unacceptable, it reverses. What has discretion to do with it? And "abuse" seems altogether too strong a term to describe what may be no more than a disagreement between equally competent judges – the trial judge and the appellate judges – that the appellate judges happen to be empowered to resolve as they see fit.

Similarly, he challenged the majority's similarly well-settled statement that an appellate court, when reviewing a trial court's decision to issue a search warrant, must afford that decision "great deference." (Among the issues in the Dessart case was whether a search warrant was supported by probable cause.) Judge Posner acknowledged that the standard comes from a Supreme Court decisions holding that "[a] magistrate's determination of probable cause should be paid great deference by reviewing courts," but questioned it nonetheless. First, he questioned why "great" deference should be afforded to such decisions since "warrants [are] usually issued by the most junior judicial officers – and often police or prosecutors can shop among magistrates for one who is certain or almost certain to respond affirmatively to a request to issue a warrant." Second, Judge Posner noted that "[n]othing in the [Fourth] amendment requires warrants – ever," therefore it was not fair, in Judge Posner's opinion, to conclude, as is often concluded, that the Constitution expresses a preference for searches conducted pursuant to warrants or to afford great deference to a trial court's decision to issue one.

Continue reading ““Here’s the mail it never fails . . . :” Judge Posner Criticizes “Rhetorical Envelopes” In Which Judicial Opinions Are “Delivered To The Reader””

Jarndyce v. Jarndyce — Obsure Reference, Appropriate Reference, Both?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

In the first paragraph of an Appellate Division decision handed down earlier this week, In The Matter of the Estate of Harry Sable, the court noted that the tortured procedural history of the case had not yet "achieved the status of the fictional [case of] Jarndyce v. Jarndyce described in Charles Dickens' Bleak House." I have always felt that Charles Dickens was one of those authors that people claim to love because they think they should love him, even though many have never read him, or at least not since they had to read him in High School. I do not claim to love Charles Dickens or claim to have read him so I did not get the Appellate Division's reference and assumed — naturally — that if I didn't get it then it must be an obscure reference.

Apparently, I was wrong.

It turns out that Bleak House is a common reference for courts in New Jersey and elsewhere that is almost always cited for the exact proposition that it was used by the Appellate Division. For the ignorant (like me), Bleak House:

concerns the fate of a large inheritance. The case has dragged on for many generations before the action of the novel, so that, when it is resolved late in the narrative, legal costs have devoured the whole estate. Dickens used it to attack the chancery court system as being near totally worthless, as any "honourable man among its [Chancery's] practitioners" says, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!" Jardyce v. Jardyce was

(Thank you Wikipedia.)

 

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Borrower Can Sue Lender To Compel Loan Modification (But Only If It Does What It Promised To Do First)

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

A recent published decision from the Appellate Division — Arias v. Elite Mortgage — resolved a question of first impression in New Jersey that is important as the State continues to dig its way out of the credit crisis. The issue in Arias involved mortgage modifications under the federal Home Affordable Mortgage Program, and specifically modifications that involve Trial Period Plan (“TPP”) agreements. As the name suggests, TPP agreements require borrowers who cannot make their regular monthly payments to make agreed upon reduced monthly payments in a timely manner for a trial period. Essentially, it allows borrowers to demonstrate to lenders that if their monthly payments are reduced then they can make their monthly mortgage payments. Accordingly, if they are able to make these payments during the trial period, then the lender agrees to modify their mortgage.

In Arias, Plaintiffs defaulted on their mortgage and then pursued a loan modification with their lender, which included a TPP agreement. However, the lender eventually refused to modify plaintiffs’ mortgage. Plaintiffs argued that this amounted to a breach of the promises the lender made in the TPP agreement, or alternatively, violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing contained in the TPP agreement. The trial court rejected their claims and the Appellate Division affirmed.

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Supreme Court Issues Important Decision On Truth In Lending Act

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Please check out an article I wrote for law360.com on the U.S. Supreme Court's  recent decision in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans. Here is the opening paragraph:

On Jan. 13, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans (No. 13-684) and resolved a circuit split on an important issue arising under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. §1601-1677 (“TILA”). Under TILA, a borrower has the right to rescind certain loans for up to three years after the loan is consummated. To exercise this right, borrowers must “notify the creditor” of their intention to rescind the loan within three years. The question in Jesinoski was whether a borrower satisfies this requirement by sending written notice to a lender of its intent to rescind or whether the borrower must file a lawsuit within the three-year statutory period. In recent years, a circuit split had developed over this issue. In Jesinoski, the Supreme Court resolved this split, holding that written notice is sufficient.

Check out the rest of the article here.