Public reprimand for intemperate written submissions

A Delaware attorney has been publicly reprimanded for intemperate written submissions. The judgment goes through the American superior court law on where the boundary between zealous advocacy and impermissibly intemperate attack lies. Great minds differed; the Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Board of Professional Responsibility which found that the language did not warrant discipline. The impugned words were: Continue reading “Public reprimand for intemperate written submissions”

Kansas Supreme Court on the rule against direct communication with opponent’s clients

The Supreme Court of Kansas yesterday published a judgment — In the Matter of E. Thomas Pyle, III — which is interesting on a number of fronts. The first is that Pyle was disciplined for writing a letter which criticised an adverse disciplinary ruling against him. The second is that he was disciplined for failing to complain about an opposing lawyer having formed the view that the opposing lawyer had engaged in misconduct (but when he did belatedly complain, the complaint was apparently not made out). Victoria has just such a dob-in rule, but I have never before heard of any lawyer being disciplined for failing to report a colleague to disciplinarians. The third is that the lawyer was originally disciplined for breaching the rule against direct contact with his opponent’s client by facilitating his own client’s direct contact with the other side, a concept I have difficulties with. And the fourth is a cracker. Pyle was found to be a “Clintonesque” witness. Continue reading “Kansas Supreme Court on the rule against direct communication with opponent’s clients”

Misconduct charge no. 21 against Victorian silk stayed as abuse of process

The latest and possibly last chapter in the tribulations of Victoria’s most senior female silk is to be found in M v VCAT [2007] VSC 89, a decision of Justice Mandie. The barrister was charged on 4 July 2005 with 24 charges of misconduct, and ended up after a hearing of the first half of the charges with a finding of only 4 counts of unsatisfactory conduct. All but one of the second half were abandoned, but the Bar, as prosecutor, sought to amend the last remaining charge so as to substitute an allegation of unsatisfactory conduct for the original charge of misconduct. VCAT found it had no power to grant leave to amend a charge, and the barrister convinced the Supreme Court to stay the hearing of the last charge as an abuse of process, VCAT having refused to do so. It was an abuse because the Bar wished to proceed with the misconduct charge not so as to make out an allegation of misconduct, but so as to provide a vehicle for a finding of unsatisfactory conduct under a statutory power which empowered VCAT to make a finding of unsatisfactory conduct after hearing a misconduct charge. Justice Mandie found:

‘[58] … It would bring the administration of justice into disrepute to permit the Bar to prosecute a charge of misconduct while at the same time saying the opposite, namely, that it was not advancing a case of misconduct or seeking a finding of misconduct. It is an entirely different position to that which might have arisen had the charge been proceeded with and, after all the evidence was in, the Bar conceded that the evidence supported only a lesser charge [i.e. unsatisfactory conduct]. The use of a misconduct charge simply to obtain a finding of a lesser charge when the case for misconduct is completely disavowed before the hearing commences is, I think, a misuse of the statutory procedure and, indeed, as the plaintiff submitted, contrary to the spirit of the Act, given the requirement that the Bar be satisfied when bringing the charge that there is a reasonable likelihood that the Tribunal would find the practitioner guilty of misconduct. If the Bar has reached the view, as it has, that a case of misconduct cannot be made out and it does not seek to do so, such a charge ought not as a matter of justice and fairness be heard.’ Continue reading “Misconduct charge no. 21 against Victorian silk stayed as abuse of process”

E-discovery default leads to verdict for $US billions

Legal Blog Watch also has a couple of posts (here and here) about a fraud case going through the American courts which resulted in a Rolah McCabe-like outcome, with a judge instructing a jury to assume that the defendant, Morgan Stanley had “engaged in massive fraud”. The West Palm Beach judge’s reasons are here. The judge’s instructions resulted from inadequate discovery of emails, which was itself said to be evidence of a consciousness of wrongdoing so as to support the inference giving rise to the jury direction. The result was a jury verdict for $1.57 billion, recently overturned for reasons unconnected with the e-discovery default. More detail here, in a long article about the stockbroking firm which blamed the destruction of its World Trade Centre offices on September 11 one too many times. And Overlawyered’s take is here.

Criminal defence lawyer to be vicariously responsible for investigator’s deception?

Legal Blog Watch draws our attention to a CNN report of a Wisconsin lawyer who is said to have gone too far in defending a middle-aged man against allegations of sexual assault and child pornography involving  a boy. Neither article states the facts adequately, so see this article too. It was alleged that the accused showed the 13 year old pornography on the accused’s computer. The lawyer wanted the boy’s computer, suspecting it would contain useful undiscovered material demonstrating that what was on the accused’s computer was nothing new to the boy. So he sent a private investigator over to the boy’s house with a story that his household had been selected for a free laptop in exchange for his old computer. There was a cover story about a company researching school students’ computer use. It worked. The boy’s family handed over the old computer, including hundreds of pornographic images which the lawyer then sought to tender in his client’s criminal trial, and the boy got a new laptop. The Wisconsin Supreme Court wil now decide whether the lawyer’s deception through the proxy of the investigator was one step too far in the vigorous and fearless defence of his client.

The solicitor and “the other side’s witness”, part II

Part I is the extraordinary story of a leading labour lawyer in Melbourne who was found to have induced breach of contract in taking a statement from an ex-employee of the other side in a class action in which the lawyer was the plaintiffs’ solicitor. Unbeknownst to him, the ex-employee continued to be bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Part II is a simple case in which the defendant’s solicitor applied to enjoin the plaintiff’s solicitor from continuing to act, based on a conflict of duties, Grego v Great Western Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd [2006] WASC 284. It was a workers’ compensation case brought by a fisherman in relation to an injury said to have been sustained on the remote Abrolhos Islands. The defendant said the payment of wages by the company which engaged in the fishing activities (of which the plaintiff and his wife were the directors) was a retrospective fiddling of the books after the alleged accident. The plaintiff interviewed the defendant’s accountant in relation to discovered documents, having alleged a fraudulent conspiracy to claim loss of wages. The accountant willingly cooperated in the preparation of an affidavit. Its contents were not damaging to the plaintiff [20]. This was said to amount to an “obvious breach of the duty of confidence” owed by the accountant to the plaintiff as his client.

There is no criticism of the defendant’s solicitor in the judgment because there is no property in a witness. The accountant must have woken up to the inappropriateness of what he was doing, though, because he sent the draft affidavit to the plaintiff’s lawyer for comment before signing.

When told of this, the defendant’s lawyer objected, saying that the accountant had disclosed a privileged document to the plaintiff’s lawyer. He said a draft witness statement is privileged under the litigation limb of legal professional privilege (a normally uncontroversial proposition) and the accountant had interfered with the defendant’s privilege by providing it to the plaintiff’s solicitor. The accountant did go on to swear an affidavit in the terms of the draft, having taken counsel’s advice and having been advised by the plaintiff’s solicitor that it was entirely a question for the accountant whether he signed the affidavit or not (the judge found at [39] that this constituted the implicit conveying of the plaintiff’s consent to the swearing of the affidavit). So by the time of the injunction application, that had already occurred, and could not be restrained. There was no attempt to restrain the use of the affidavit in the litigation. The defendant applied for the plaintiff’s solicitor to be restrained on the basis that the solicitor had:

“2.1 wilfully infringed against the legal professional privilege of the [defendant] in a draft affidavit;

2.2 have placed [himself] in a position where [his] duties to the plaintiff and [his] duties to a material witness necessarily conflict;

2.3 by [his] actions have created a perception that [he] interfered with a witness in the giving of evidence.”

His counsel’s argument met with about as little success as is possible. Justice Peter Blaxell said: Continue reading “The solicitor and “the other side’s witness”, part II”

Litigant may not represent himself in those bits barrister spurns

In Malouf v Malouf [2006] NSWCA 83, (2006) 65 NSWLR 449 the NSW Court of Appeal, led by President Mason disapproved of the practice allowed below of a litigant appearing for himself in relation to some points and being represented in relation to others. Warwick Malouf had sued his brother for fraud, and represented himself, and lost ([2005] NSWC 9). He appealed, claiming that the judge had not assisted him sufficiently. What seems likely to have happened is that Mr Malouf filed a fairly average set of grounds of appeal, retained counsel who told him so, drafted some good ones, which were tacked onto the existing grounds by Mr Malouf, and the barrister said he could not support Mr Malouf’s grounds and would only make advocacy by reference to the new ones. Mason P said of this ploy that it had the tendency of much mischief: Continue reading “Litigant may not represent himself in those bits barrister spurns”

Misconduct constituted by barrister’s misleading mediation statements

In Legal Services Commissioner v M [2006] LPT 012, a leading Brisbane barrister was fined $20,000 (his fees of $9,100 plus $10,900 penalty) for engaging in fraudulent misrepresentation on the instructions of his client in a mediation in which the insurer was induced to pay the barrister’s cancer-riddled plaintiff client over $1 million on a claim based on a near-normal life expectancy. He was found guilty of professional misconduct, and publicly reprimanded (I wonder whether a solicitor was sitting blithely by and escaped prosecution). Frankly, I reckon he was lucky to get away with a fine and reprimand given that he contested the charge by reference to the “startling” contention, described by the Tribunal:

“[25] The respondent argues that his conduct in continuing to rely on the Evidex reports without disclosing the cancer facts was not tantamount to some representation that he was not aware of facts that could deleteriously impact on longevity.  His case characterizes the compromise negotiations as “commercial”, conducted on a tacit, common assumption that, in deciding whether to settle, the parties would rely exclusively on their own resources and information.  There would not, it is said, have been a reasonable expectation that influential information communicated during the negotiations would not knowingly be false.”

But the content of what must surely be the pre-eminent professional non-client duty – not to mislead — is not well-known, and litigation is so obese with toleration of falsehoods, that I have some limited sympathy for the confusion the barrister claims to have fallen into, having researched the issue. Because, contrary to the idiotic utterances of some regulators, legal ethics are not intuitive.  There is no “gut feel” test. Legal ethics frequently involve a duty not to volunteer the truth. Continue reading “Misconduct constituted by barrister’s misleading mediation statements”

The duty not to mislead in negotiation

I would be very surprised if the most commonly committed species of misconduct were not engaging in misleading conduct in negotiation. But there is very little written about it. Justice John Byrne of the Supreme Court of Queensland, sitting in the Legal Profession Tribunal, in Legal Services Commissioner v Mullins [2006] LPT 012 (see next post) footnoted a number of articles on the topic, most of which have hyperlinked citations: Continue reading “The duty not to mislead in negotiation”

Mr Howell releases Client from implied undertaking as to documents

Alessi’s Case is a long-running application to set aside a costs agreement commenced in the Legal Profession Tribunal in 2003. The Alessis succeeded in having their solicitor’s costs agreement cancelled and two bills set aside in [2005] VLPT 18. The latest decision — [2006] VCAT 149  is just a little one about an application by the Clients to be released from what used to be known as the Home Office v Harman undertaking, that is, the undertaking by a litigant or other person who has received information through a process of compulsion such as discovery not to use the documents for any purpose other than the prosecution of the matter in which the information is produced.

The solicitor had discovered over 1,000 documents. There were related court proceedings in which the solicitor was suing the Alessis for his fees, in which a company associated with the solicitor was suing on a loan to a company associated with the Alessis, and in which various consultants engaged by the solicitor were suing the Alessis for fees. The Alessis applied for a waiver of the implied undertaking en masse on the basis of their general relevance to one or more of the 6 related proceedings. That application was granted. Continue reading “Mr Howell releases Client from implied undertaking as to documents”

Roisin Annesley’s Victorian Barristers’ practice guide

The Bar has produced a practice guide. It is a great achievement and stands as a beacon for the Law Institute’s future efforts at promulgating knowledge of the practice rules. The Bar actually has something called the Professional Standards Education Committee. Written by Roisin Annesley, it was launched by Victoria Marles, the Legal Services Commissioner on 18 October 2006, and distributed free to every member of the Bar. Annesley has done a lot of work as Counsel Assisting the Legal Profession Tribunal (and continues to do occasional work assisting the Legal Practice List at VCAT). A doyen of professional discipline, Paul Lacava SC, and a judge who has excoriated Professional Standards, Justice Gillard, are credited with substantial involvement. It has chapters on: Continue reading “Roisin Annesley’s Victorian Barristers’ practice guide”

3 years’ holiday for not making ongoing discovery

Guss v Law Institute of Victoria Ltd [2006] VSCA 88 (Maxwell P gave the lead judgment, Callaway and Chernov JJA agreeing)

A solicitor’s right to practice was suspended for three years and he was ordered to pay costs of $31,500 for failing to comply with the obligation of ongoing discovery in relation to what was prima facie a privileged copy of a document produced by an expert witness a few days before trial which, had the existence of the copy document been disclosed to the other side, might have put the other side onto a train of enquiry which might have led to relevant evidence. Continue reading “3 years’ holiday for not making ongoing discovery”

A duty not to tempt witnesses to breach likely confidentiality obligations?

Update, 22 December 2009: I came across this article recently: ‘Using Information: Witnesses Under Obligations of Confidence’ (2002) 22(11) Proctor 16.

Original post:

AG Australia Holdings Ltd v Burton (2002) 58 NSWLR 464; Bernard Murphy “Witnesses and Confidential Information” Litigation Lawyers’ Section Newsletter, March 2006

Melbourne class action litigator Bernard Murphy was found by the NSW Supreme Court to have engaged in the tort of inducing breach of contract by acting with a reckless disregard as to whether asking questions of a “smoking gun” ex-employee witness was likely to involve a breach of the witness’s confidentiality obligations to GIO. [Update, Jan 2007: compare this case.]
Continue reading “A duty not to tempt witnesses to breach likely confidentiality obligations?”