Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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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

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A discovery dispute arose out of claims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty brought by Moreland/Manoogian, LLC and Tamsen Investments, LLC (collectively "M/M"). Richard Judd, Stephen Waters and their firm Robinson Waters & O'Dorisio, PC (RWO) represented M/M in a real estate development deal. Cedar Street Venture, LLC and M/M sought to solidify their partnership, but in the final phases of the deal, Cedar Street's attorney withdrew. RWO continued to represent M/M in the transaction but at times also advised and acted on behalf of Cedar Street. Because of these actions, Cedar Street viewed RWO as its attorney. Eventually the relationship between M/M and Cedar Street soured, and the parties went to arbitration to settle their differences. The basis of M/M and Cedar Street's complaints pertained to RWO's fees. During discovery, M/M sought RWO's financial records. RWO refused to turn them over. With minimal explanation, the trial court found that these documents were directly relevant to the case. In its holding, the Supreme Court took the opportunity to set the framework that trial courts should use when deciding on discovery requests that implicate the right to privacy: (1) the party requesting the information must prove the information is relevant to case; (2) the party opposing the request must show that the materials are confidential and will not otherwise be disclosed; (3) if the court determines there is a legitimate expectation of privacy in the materials, the requesting party must prove disclosure serves a compelling interest; and (4) if successful, the requesting party must show that the information is not available through other sources.

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The Supreme Court reviewed the appellate courtâs decision against Plaintiffs Jack and Danette Steele. In their claim, Plaintiffs alleged that attorney Katherine Allen gave them incorrect information about a statute of limitations, which led to missing a filing deadline in a negligence suit. The trial court dismissed both their claims of negligent misrepresentation and professional negligence. Plaintiffs only appealed the dismissal of their negligent misrepresentation claim. The appellate court held that Plaintiffs had a claim against the attorney. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Plaintiffsâ evidence was not sufficient to support their claim. The Court reversed the decision of the appellate court and remanded the case for further proceedings.