December 18, 2017

Archives for May 25, 2017

Dissemination of Confidential Client Information Discouraged in Formal Ethics Opinion 130

The Colorado Bar Association Ethics Committee recently issued Formal Opinion 130, dated April 3, 2017. Formal Opinion 130 addresses the disclosure of confidential client information, including information that is publicly available, such as when the information has been on the news. The opinion concludes that dissemination of such information is prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct, and specifically states that there is no exception for information contained in the public record.

Formal Opinion 130 also addresses the use of information about former clients, concluding that such use may be allowed under the Rules when such information is “generally known.” The opinion advises attorneys to exercise caution when using information about former clients.

The opinion offers redaction and informed consent as reasonable measures to use for the dissemination of confidential client information, but cautions that merely redacting the client’s name is likely insufficient to comply with the Rules.

Finally, the opinion cautions against editing confidential client information in order to mislead or misrepresent positions. This would implicate Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

The opinion concludes, “In many situations, making information obtained in the course of representing a client public is helpful, either to other lawyers or to educate the public.  But client confidences must be respected.” Lawyers should use caution when disseminating confidential client information.

Formal Opinion 130 by cleincolorado on Scribd

Colorado Court of Appeals: Set-Off to Other Liable Parties Should be Applied to Jury Verdict before Contractual Limitation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. v. Terracon Consultants, Inc. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Contract—Limitation on Liability—Setoff—Jury Award—Statutory Costs—Prejudgment Interest—Post-Judgment Interest—Expert Testimony—Willful and Wanton—Settlement Statute—Costs.

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. (Taylor) was the developer of a residential subdivision. Taylor contracted with Terracon Consultants, Inc. (Terracon) to provide geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing services for the development of the subdivision. Taylor and Terracon agreed to cap Terracon’s total aggregate liability to Taylor at $550,000 (Limitation) for any and all damages or expenses arising out of its services or the contract. After homeowners notified Taylor about drywall cracks in their houses, Taylor investigated the complaints and then sued Terracon and other contractors for damages relating to those defects. After trial, the jury awarded Taylor $9,586,056 in damages, but also found that Terracon’s conduct was not willful and wanton. The court concluded that the Limitation includes costs and prejudgment interest and applied it to reduce the jury’s $9,586,056 damages award to $550,000. It also deducted the $592,500 settlement received from the other liable parties to arrive at zero dollars. The court found that neither party prevailed for purposes of awarding statutory interest and further concluded that neither Terracon’s deposit of $550,000 into the court registry nor its email to Taylor addressing a mutual dismissal constituted a statutory offer of settlement that would have allowed Terracon a costs and fees award.

On appeal, Taylor contended that the trial court erroneously deducted the setoff from the Limitation instead of deducting it from the jury damages verdict. The correct approach is to first apply the setoff against the jury verdict and then apply the contractual limitation against this reduced amount. Thus, Terracon’s liability according to the Limitation should have been a final judgment of $550,000 for Taylor.

Taylor next contended that the trial court erred when it concluded that the Limitation, by its terms, includes statutory costs and prejudgment interest. The pertinent contract language states that the Limitation applies to “any and all” expenses “including attorney and expert fees.” Thus, the Limitation’s language covers costs associated with interpreting and enforcing the contract.

Taylor further argued that the trial court erred in ruling that the Limitation does not include prejudgment interest within its cap on liability. The Limitation caps Terracon’s liability for “any and all injuries, damages, claims, losses, or expenses.” (Emphasis in original.) Because prejudgment interest is a form of damages, the Limitation also covers prejudgment interest. Taylor also asserted that post-judgment interest is not covered by the Limitation. The Court of Appeals agreed because post-judgment interest is not an element of compensatory damages.

Taylor next argued that the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony concerning willful and wanton conduct was reversible error. Here, the court allowed the experts to testify about the factual conduct and opine on Terracon’s performance using characterizations within their expertise, but prevented testimony about legal concepts outside their expertise and whether a legal standard was met.

Terracon argued on cross-appeal that the trial court erred by not awarding it costs under Colorado’s settlement statute. Terracon’s deposit of $550,000 into the court registry pursuant to C.R.C.P. 67(a) was not a settlement offer because Taylor did not have the option to reject it. The statute requires both an offer and a rejection; thus the statute was not triggered, and Terracon is not entitled to costs. Further, Terracon’s email did not comply with C.R.S. § 13-17-202 because this alleged “settlement offer” contained nonmonetary conditions that extended the offer beyond the claims at issue. Therefore, there was no error in denying costs to Terracon.

The judgment was reversed as to the final award and the case was remanded with instructions. The judgment and orders were affirmed in all other respects.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Vague and Fleeting Reference to Prior Criminal Activity Did Not Undermine Fairness of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Salas on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Due Process—Mistrial—Prior Criminality—Videotaped Interview—Inconsistent Statements—Sexually Violent Predator—Findings of Fact.

A jury found Salas guilty of sexual assault on a 9-year-old child by one in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child, pattern of abuse. The trial court’s order found him to be a sexually violent predator (SVP).

On appeal, Salas contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his rights to due process, a fair trial, and an impartial jury by denying his motion for a mistrial after victim’s grandmother testified by giving a nonresponsive answer to a question which, Salas contended, impermissibly referred to prior criminality. Because grandmother’s remark was fleeting, minimally prejudicial, and immediately followed by a curative instruction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Salas’s motion for a mistrial.

Salas next contended that the district court abused its discretion when it denied his request to play a videotaped interview of grandmother. Here, defense counsel sufficiently confronted grandmother with her inconsistent statements and she either explained or conceded them. Thus admission of the videotape would have been cumulative, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Salas also argued that the trial court’s determination that he qualified as an SVP failed to satisfy statutory and due process requirements because the court never made specific findings of fact in support of its determination as required by C.R.S. § 18-3-414.5(2). While the record evidence might support a conclusion that Salas either promoted or established a relationship with the victim for purposes of sexual victimization, the court did not make specific findings on this matter, and other evidence might lead to the opposite conclusion. This error was substantial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the SVP designation.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed. The SVP designation was vacated and the case was remanded for the trial court to make specific findings of fact regarding Salas’s SVP designation.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Possession of Controlled Substance at Direction of Legal Owner Not Affirmative Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Martinez on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Unlawful Possession—Prescription—Affirmative Defense—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant was charged with simple possession after the police found Percocet and Vicodin in her purse for which she did not have a prescription. At trial, defendant’s neighbor testified that she had prescriptions for both medications and that she had asked defendant to hold her prescriptions while they were out that evening because her purse was too small and she did not wish to leave the medications at home. A jury convicted defendant of possession and the trial court sentenced her to probation.

On appeal, defendant contended that she could lawfully possess the medications if she was “acting at the direction of the legal owner of the controlled substance,” and the trial court erred by failing to give the jury an affirmative defense instruction. The language defendant relies on in C.R.S. § 18-18-413 may present a defense to the crime of unauthorized possession of a prescribed controlled substance. However, C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is a separate offense, and it does not present an affirmative defense to unlawful possession under C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, under which defendant was charged. Further, the trial court did not err in failing to tie the instruction to the elemental instructions given to the jury because the error would have to have been plain and obvious, which it was not. Thus, the trial court did not commit plain error by declining to adopt this construction sua sponte.

Defendant further contended that the trial court plainly erred by not giving an affirmative defense instruction based on the prescription exception in C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c), which allows lawful possession by “[a]n ultimate user or a person in possession” of the medication “pursuant to a lawful order of a practitioner.” C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c) is an affirmative defense to unlawful possession of a controlled substance. However, this affirmative defense did not apply to the charges against defendant because she did not have a valid prescription from a practitioner. Further, even assuming that the court erred in sua sponte failing to give this affirmative defense, such error would not be reversible error because it was not obvious and substantial.

Finally, defendant argued that the prosecutor committed reversible error by arguing that C.R.S. § 18-18-413 was not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5 and by misstating the evidence in closing arguments. Because C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, and the prosecutor’s statements were reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence presented at trial, the prosecutor’s arguments both during voir dire and closing argument were proper.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 5/24/2017

On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. $112,061.00 in United States Currency

Morris v. Gracy

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