December 11, 2017

Archives for April 26, 2016

Attorney at Work—Mixing Cocktails with Legal Advice: Don’t

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Attorney at Work on April 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Mark3By Mark Bassingthwaighte

I can appreciate a well-crafted cocktail. But when I am in a situation where such beverages are being served, I never get involved in a conversation about someone’s legal problems. And I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Here’s a short story that explains why.

An associate at a law firm — not a litigator in any way — attended a social function and had a few more than she should have. She got involved in a conversation with another guest about a personal injury matter. In addition to sharing some generic advice, the associate also let the guest know there was still plenty of time to deal with the matter, saying the statute of limitations in that jurisdiction was two years. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to our heroine, there was an exception to the statute in play and the actual time to file suit was six months. The guest, relying on the advice, did not obtain legal counsel until after the filing deadline had passed.

The young lawyer and her firm were eventually sued for malpractice.

The Accidental Client

We all know drinking and driving can have serious consequences — when your judgment and reflexes are impaired, accidents can happen. Mixing cocktails and legal advice is similarly problematic. It’s too easy for a casual setting, coupled with a few adult beverages, to cloud your thinking. You may then find yourself dealing with an accidental client.

Malpractice claims can easily arise out of these situations, but the risk isn’t limited to cocktail parties. Casual conversations online with extended family members or friends and gatherings with members of your church congregation or other community organizations are all situations where you should proceed with caution.

You can’t overlook the office setting, either.

Should you be concerned about passing along a little casual advice in a conversation with a corporate constituent while representing the entity itself? How about discussing issues with beneficiaries while representing the estate, trying to help a prospective client out during that first meeting when you know you are going to decline the representation? Or what about being a good Samaritan by making a few suggestions on the phone to someone who clearly has a problem but really can’t afford an attorney? How about answering a few questions from an unrepresented third party?

The answer is, of course, yes — these are all situations that can easily lead to an accidental client.

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

Old sayings became old sayings because they have a ring of truth to them.

I am always surprised by what attorneys say when they have to deal with a claim brought by an accidental client. Comments like “I never intended to create an attorney-client relationship,” “There was no signed fee agreement,” and “No money was exchanged so how could this be?” are common.

Guess what: It’s not about you! Typically, it is more about how the individual you interacted with responded to the exchange. If they happened to respond as if they were receiving a little legal advice from an attorney, and that response was reasonable under the circumstances, it can start to get muddy. Worse yet, if it was reasonably foreseeable that this individual would rely or act on your casual advice — and then, in fact, did so to their detriment — you may have a serious problem on your hands.

I share this not with a desire to convince you to keep quiet and never try to help someone. By all means, be helpful. The world could use a few more good Samaritans, and a desire to help others is a good thing as long as you stay the course. I share this because I want you to be cognizant of the risk involved whenever you decide to step into those waters.

Here’s the Bottom Line

Accidental clients are for real and there is no such thing as “legal lite.” So if you are enjoying a wonderful evening at a party, cocktail in hand, and find yourself conversing with another guest who has just learned you are an attorney and wants to “pick your brain,” don’t talk about legal issues you are not well-versed in. If you feel compelled to pass along a little advice, then remember to ask questions so you understand the entire situation. Just know that you may be held to the accuracy of that advice later on, so you might want to jot down a few notes as soon as you can.

Finally, know that it’s okay to say you’re not the right person to be asking, particularly after you’ve had a few.

That said, salute!

Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier, since 1998. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1150 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented numerous continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management and technology.  Mr. Bassingthwaighte is a member of the ABA and currently sits on the ABA’s Law Practice Division’s Professional Development Board, the Division’s Ethics and Professionalism Committee, and he serves as the Division’s Liaison to the ABA’s Standing Committee on Lawyers Professional Liability. Mr. Bassingthwaighte received his J.D. from Drake University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College.

Contact Information:
Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq.
ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Company
Risk Manager
PO Box 9169 | Missoula, Montana 59807
(T) 406.728.3113 | (Toll Free) 800.367.2577 | (F) 406.728.7416
mbass@alpsnet.com | www.alpsnet.com

ALPS offers up to a 10% premium credit for each attorney in a firm who receives 3 CLE credits annually in the areas of ethics, risk management, loss prevention, or office management. ALPS is a lawyers’ malpractice carrier endorsed by the CBA. Learn more at try.alpsnet.com/Colorado

Colorado Supreme Court: Ballot Initiative Contains Only One Subject but Title Misleading

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Title, Ballot Title, and Submission Clause for 2015-2016 #73: Hayes v. Spalding on Monday, April 25, 2016.

Single Subject—Clear Title.

The Supreme Court concluded that Initiative #73 contains one subject, namely, the manner in which recall elections are triggered and conducted. The Court further concluded that the title set by the Title Board does not satisfy the clear title requirement because (1) it does not alert voters to central elements of the initiative; (2) it is misleading as to other elements; and (3) as all parties agree, it unnecessarily recites existing law. Accordingly, the Court reversed the action of the Title Board in setting the title for Initiative #73 and returned the measure to the Board for the purpose of fixing a new title that satisfies the clear title requirement.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Cost of Capital Deductible from Severance Tax

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in BP America Production Co. v. Colorado Department of Revenue on Monday, April 25, 2016.

Tax Law—Tax Deduction—Severance Tax.

Colorado’s severance tax statute levies a tax on income derived from the sale of natural gas extracted from real property in Colorado. The statute permits taxpayers to deduct “any transportation, manufacturing, and processing costs” from revenue in valuing oil and gas resources for tax purposes. Here, BP America Production Company sought to deduct the cost of capital because it is a cost associated with transportation and processing activity. The Supreme Court held that the plain language of the severance tax statute authorizes a deduction for any transportation, manufacturing, and processing costs and that the cost of capital is a deductible cost that resulted from investment in transportation and processing facilities.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

HB 16-1388: Prohibiting Certain Employers from Inquiring Into Applicants’ Criminal Records

On March 16, 2016, Rep. Beth McCann introduced HB 16-1388Concerning the Timing of Inquiring into a Job Applicant’s Criminal History. The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it passed unamended and referred to Appropriations.

This bill prohibits any employer who has four or more people regularly engaged in the same business or employment from engaging in certain practices related to the screening of potential employees’ criminal records. For the purposes of the bill, “employer” does not include state, local, or quasi-governmental entities.

An employer shall not:

  1. State in an advertisement or application for employment that a person with a criminal history may not apply; or
  2. Inquire into or require disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history until the applicant has been determined qualified for the position and notified that the applicant has been selected for an interview, or if there is not an interview, until after a conditional offer of employment is made.

An employer is exempt from these restrictions if:

  1. A law prohibits the employment of a person with a specific criminal conviction;
  2. A law requires the consideration of an applicant’s criminal history;
  3. The position is designed for participation in a government program to encourage the employment of people with criminal histories; or
  4. The position requires a fidelity bond, and a specific criminal conviction would disqualify the applicant from obtaining the bond.

An employer who violates the bill is liable for one of the following penalties: (1) first offense: warning and an order requiring compliance within 30 days; (2) second offense: civil fine not exceeding $500 (for employers with more than 14 employees, not exceeding $1,000); or (3) third or subsequent offense: civil fine not exceeding $1,000 (for employers with more than 14 employees, not exceeding $2,500)

The bill does not create or authorize a private cause of action by a person aggrieved by a violation of its provisions, although an aggrieved individual may file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Employment.

Employers shall retain employment applications for nine months after submission to the employer, and employers shall allow the Department of Labor and Employment to inspect said employment applications.

Max Montag is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

HB 16-1377: Creating a Task Force on Collection and Security of Digital Images of Child Abuse

On March 16, 2016, Rep. Dianne Primavera and Sen. Kent Lambert introduced HB 16-1377Concerning the Creation of a Task Force on the Collection and Security of Digital Images of Evidence of Child Abuse or Neglect. The bill was assigned to the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee, where it passed unamended. The bill passed through Second and Third Reading unamended and was introduced in the Senate in the Health & Human Services Committee. It was amended in committee and referred to the Senate Committee of the Whole for Second Reading.

This bill creates a task force to study and make recommendations on the current policies and procedures surrounding the collection and security of digital image evidence of child abuse or neglect.

The task force has three primary purposes:

  1. Study current laws, rules, and practices followed in Colorado – and best practices in other states – regarding the collection and security by county employees of digital evidence of suspected child abuse;
  2. Consider whether the statutes and practices concerning the collection and use of digital evidence of suspected child abuse are consistent with the existing and emerging technologies; and
  3. Recommend the best practices to be used in the collection and security of digital evidence of suspected child abuse.

In carrying out purposes (1) and (2), the task force shall investigate:

  1. The laws, practices, and standards governing how a county employee takes, maintains, and disseminates digital images of the child to document child abuse, considering the importance of balancing the need to collect evidence with the need to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of the parents and child;
  2. The safeguards used by county employees to ensure the best interest of the child when documenting digital evidence of suspected child abuse;
  3. The role of law enforcement agencies in conducting a child abuse assessment or investigation, as well as how law enforcement agencies, county departments, and medical professionals collaborate during assessments or investigations; and
  4. The laws, practices, and standards governing the taking of digital images of children’s bodies, as well as the audio or videotaping of a child interview.

In carrying out purpose (3), the task force shall submit to a number of specified state agencies, departments, and institutions an initial report by December 1, 2017. A final report shall be submitted by December 1, 2018.

The membership of the task force shall consist of the following members:

  1. Executive director of the Department of Human Services, or his or her designee;
  2. Child protection ombudsman;
  3. Attorney representative of the office of the child’s representative;
  4. Attorney representative of the respondent parents’ counsel;
  5. The Governor shall appoint the following members, all of whom should have experience in dealing with child abuse cases: licensed pediatrician, law enforcement officer/investigator from a rural area, law enforcement officer/investigator from an urban area, representative who oversees the child welfare training academy, director/administrator of a county department of social or human services, sexual assault nurse examiner, and a license child psychiatrist or psychologist;
  6. The Speaker of the House of Representatives shall appoint the following members: forensic interviewer of an accredited child advocacy center with experience interviewing abused children, representative of a statewide professional social work organization with experience counseling abused children, certified foster parent, representative of a law and policy child advocacy group or agency, and a caseworker that conducts assessments of child abuse cases; and
  7. The President of the Senate shall appoint the following members: county attorney with experience in dependency or neglect cases, a school representative (such as a principal, administrator, or school nurse), representative of a nationally recognized organization that works to prevent and treat child abuse, court-appointed special advocate for abused children, and a caseworker that conducts assessments of child abuse cases.

Appointments to the task force must occur on or before September 1, 2016. The first meeting of the task force shall occur on or before October 1, 2016.

Max Montag is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Tenth Circuit: Conviction for Robbery under California Penal Code Qualifies as Crime of Violence

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Castillo on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Wilber Castillo was convicted in California in 2004 of second-degree robbery, and was removed from the United States in 2007. In 2009, he reentered the United States without inspection. In 2011, he was convicted of shoplifting and in 2014 he was convicted of disorderly conduct. He was interviewed by ICE after his 2014 arrest, and based on his admission, Castillo was charged with illegal reentry under 18 U.S.C. § 1326. The base offense level for illegal reentry is 8 but because of his 2004 conviction for robbery, which is classified as a crime of violence, his total offense level was 24, resulting in a Guidelines range of 46-57 months’ imprisonment. Castillo objected to the application of the crime of violence enhancer. The district court ruled Castillo’s prior conviction was a crime of violence and the offense level was correct, but nevertheless varied downward and sentenced Castillo to 24 months’ imprisonment. Castillo appealed.

The Tenth Circuit examined California Penal Code § 211 to determine whether a conviction under that section qualifies as a crime of violence for purposes of Guidelines § 2L1.2. Castillo argued that because § 211 considers threats to property as crimes of violence, it does not substantially correspond with the generic definition of robbery. The government conceded that including threats to property is a minority position, but argued that the crimes covered by § 211 outside the generic definition of robbery fell within the generic definition of extortion, which is also considered a crime of violence. The Tenth Circuit agreed.  Following the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in another case that evaluated whether a conviction under § 211 qualified as a crime of violence, the Tenth Circuit found that because the elements of § 211 that do not correspond to the generic definition of robbery are encompassed in the generic definition of extortion, and both crimes are considered crimes of violence, the sentencing enhancer applied.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 4/26/2016

On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

Goss v. Board of County Commissioners

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.