Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
Appellant GMAC Mortgage Corporation, through its attorneys Appellants Morgan & Potter, Attorneys, P.S.C. filed a disciplinary complaint against Appellee Noel Botts. Botts had represented GMAC's successor-in-interest in a foreclosure action. The trial commissioner conducted an evidentiary hearing and ultimately determined that the Kentucky Bar Association failed to prove by a preponderance, that Botts committed any of the acts or omissions charged. The Board of Governors accepted the trial commissioner's determination, and charges against Botts were ultimately dismissed. Subsequently Botts filed suit against GMAC and Morgan & Pottinger in circuit court, requesting relief from pecuniary and professional harm he allegedly suffered as a result of the disciplinary complaint. In his suit, Botts alleged wrongful use of civil proceedings, defamation and slander, abuse of process, fraud and outrageous conduct. Appellants filed numerous motions to dismiss based on claims of immunity, all of which were denied. Because Appellants claimed immunity as the basis for their motions, the order is appealable. Because the claim raises an issue of statewide importance, the Supreme Court granted Morgan & Pottinger's motion to transfer. State law holds that any statement made in the institution of, or during the course of an attorney disciplinary proceeding, is privileged so long as it is material, pertinent and relevant to that proceeding. Even if it patently fails or is entered with malice, the Kentucky "judicial statements" privilege is absolute and would still apply. The Court noted that Botts' allegations of wrongful use of civil proceedings, abuse of process, fraud and outrageous conduct are not based singly on Appellants' statements contained in the Bar Association complaint, but also on the act of filing the complaint. Whether the "judicial statements" privilege encompasses the act of filing the complaint is a matter of first impression. The Court decided that any communication or statement made to the Bar Association during the course of a disciplinary hearing or investigation, including the contents of the complaint initiating such proceedings, are absolutely privileged and extend to the act of filing the complaint. The Court remanded the case back to the circuit court for additional fact finding to address the basis of Botts' claims for fraud, defamation and slander.