October 24, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Payments for Vendor Tables at Republican Convention Were Not Political Contributions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Colorado Republican Committee on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Administrative Law Judge—Campaign Contributions—Value of Services—Reportable—C.R.S. §§ 1-45-108(1)(a)(I) and -103(6)(b).

An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing and determined that the Colorado Republican Committee (CRC) improperly failed to report three payments for vendor tables at its 2016 Republican Party assembly and convention. The CRC was fined and sanctioned for failing to report contributions.

On appeal, CRC contended that the ALJ erred in determining that the three payments for vendor tables at the convention were reportable contributions under state law and not properly reported by CRC. C.R.S. § 1-45-108(1)(a)(I) requires political committees to report receipt of contributions of $20 or more and to report expenditures and obligations. C.R.S. § 1-45-103(6)(b), which defines “contribution,” applies to all contributions “for which the contributor receives compensation or consideration,” and thus applies to the payments at issue here. Under the plain language of this section, political parties are required to report only that portion of payments for services that exceeds the value of the services rendered. Here, Campaign Integrity Watchdog provided no evidence that the value of the vendor tables was actually less than the $350 CRC charged. Therefore, the ALJ erred in finding that the payments at issue were reportable contributions under state law.

The part of the order imposing a fine and sanctions against CRC for failing to disclose the relevant payments was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Rule 8.4 of Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct Amended in Rule Change 2017(09)

On Thursday, September 28, 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court released Rule Change 2017(09), amending Rule 8.4 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 8.4 addresses attorney misconduct. The change to the rule only involves subsection (c), which is amended by the addition of a clause to clarify that attorneys may advise, direct, or supervise others in lawful investigatory activities:

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, except that a lawyer may advise, direct, or supervise others, including clients, law enforcement officers, or investigators, who participate in lawful investigative activities;

The rule change is effective immediately. A redline and clean copy of the rule change is available here. All of the Colorado Supreme Court’s adopted and proposed rule changes are available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Counties Not Liable for Attorney Fees to Defend Disciplinary Action Against District Attorney

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ruybalid v. Board of County Commissioners of Las Animas County on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Ruybalid was the District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, and he admitted to serial violations of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct during his tenure as District Attorney. Ruybalid believed the counties should have defended him against his disciplinary actions, but the counties refused to pay for his attorney fees and costs. Ruybalid hired an attorney and entered into a settlement, admitting a pattern of discovery violations that led to the dismissal of criminal charges in several cases and stipulating that he did not diligently represent the people and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

After resolving the disciplinary action, Ruybalid filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the counties, seeking reimbursement of his attorney fees and costs incurred in defending the disciplinary action. The counties moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing Ruybalid had no right to fees and costs. Ruybalid countered that he had a statutory right to fees and costs, and also an equitable claim. The district court concluded that Ruybalid had failed to state a claim and had no right to fees and costs, and dismissed the complaint. Ruybalid appealed.

The court of appeals noted that the American Rule generally requires parties to pay their own fees and costs. Ruybalid argued that C.R.S. § 20-1-303 required the counties to pay his attorney fees, but the court of appeals disagreed, finding nothing in the rule to require the counties to pay attorney fees or costs. The court refused to infer an exception to the American Rule not explicitly authorized by statute. The court declined to consider the attorney fees and costs incurred in defending Ruybalid’s disciplinary action as “expenses necessarily incurred” in discharging a district attorney’s official duties. The court also noted that Ruybalid failed to allege any facts that tended to support that the expenses incurred were for the benefit of the counties.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney Must Assume Financial and Ethical Responsibility in Order to Share Fees

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Scott R. Larson, P.C. v. Grinnan on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Attorney Fee Dispute—Referral Fees—Division of Fees.

Grinnan is a general practitioner with limited experience in personal injury cases. Grinnan’s friend Kelley asked Grinnan to represent him in a personal injury case. Grinnan obtained Kelley’s approval to involve Scott Larson., P.C. in the case, and Larson entered into a contingency fee agreement with the Kelley family. As relevant here, the agreement identified Grinnan as “associated counsel,” stated that Grinnan would be paid a percentage of Larson’s fee “not to exceed 100%,” and provided that Larson was responsible for paying case expenses. Grinnan was not a signatory to the agreement.

Larson brought claims against various entities and settled with one early in the case. From Larson’s $333,333 fee on this settlement, he sent Grinnan a check for $50,000. After three years of litigation, the case settled. Based on the settlements, the contingent fee agreement entitled Larson to a fee of $3,216,666.67. Larson had incurred about $300,000 in costs.

Larson and Grinnan couldn’t agree on how to divide the contingent fee. Grinnan entered his appearance, and the court granted his request that all attorney fees paid to Larson be placed in a restricted interest bearing account. Following a hearing, the trial court entered a detailed written order allocating the attorney fees. The trial court declined to divide the fees in proportion to services and found that Grinnan had assumed joint responsibility for the litigation. The court divided the fees by awarding Grinnan 20% of the $333,333.34 from the first settlement and 12.5% of the $2,883,333.33 fee from the other two settlements. The court also awarded Grinnan prejudgment interest at the rate of 8% from the date the settlement checks were issued until final judgment entered on the fees allocated to him. It also awarded Larson interest on the fees placed in the restricted account less the fees awarded to Grinnan (as a wrongful withholding). The court declined to award costs, finding that neither lawyer was the prevailing party.

On appeal, Larson asserted that Grinnan never assumed joint responsibility because he did not assume responsibility for the representation as a whole. The court of appeals found that Grinnan had assumed one of the two components of joint responsibility—financial responsibility for the case—because of Grinnan’s exposure to liability for any malpractice of Larson. A remand was necessary to determine whether he also assumed ethical responsibility, the second component, on which the court had made no findings.

As guidance to the trial court on remand, the court analyzed the ethical responsibility issue. It concluded that a referring lawyer must: actively monitor the progress of the case; make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm of the lawyer to whom the case was referred has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct; and remain available to the client to discuss the case and provide independent judgment as to any concerns the client may have that the lawyer to whom the case was referred is acting in conformity with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

On remand, if the court finds that Grinnan assumed ethical responsibility, the court’s fee award will stand, subject to appeal by Larson. If the court finds that Grinnan did not assume ethical responsibility, he is only entitled to fees in proportion to the services he performed, with the referral fees to be reallocated to Larson, subject to appeal by Grinnan.

The court concluded that Grinnan failed to preserve issues he raised on cross-appeal.

Grinnan also contended that the trial court erred in finding a wrongful withholding.  The court found no error in the trial court’s award of prejudgment interest to Larson based on Grinnan’s wrongful withholding.

The court also noted that on remand the trial court could reconsider its decision not to award costs based on its findings on ethical responsibility.

The attorney fee award was vacated, the cross-appealed rulings were affirmed, and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Motion to Disqualify Under Colo. RPC 1.9(a) Rarely Raises “Identical” Issue to Other Case

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Villas at Highland Park Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Villas at Highland Park, LLC on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Issue Preclusion—Attorney Disqualification—Colo. RPC 1.9.

In this original proceeding under C.A.R. 21, the supreme court reviewed a district court’s order applying the doctrine of issue preclusion to deny defendants’ motion to disqualify one of the plaintiff’s attorneys under Colo. RPC 1.9 and to disqualify her law firm by imputation of the attorney’s conflict under Colo. RPC 1.10. The disqualification inquiry under Colo. RPC 1.9(a) asks whether an attorney’s prior representation and current representation are “substantially related.” This inquiry under Colo. RPC 1.9(a) is specific to the particular matter for which disqualification is sought. The supreme court therefore concludes that a motion to disqualify under Colo. RPC 1.9(a) will rarely, if ever, raise an “identical” issue to a disqualification motion in another case for purposes of issue preclusion. Here, the court held that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on the doctrine of issue preclusion to deny the disqualification motion instead of conducting the requisite analysis under Colo. RPC 1.9(a). The court therefore made the rule to show cause absolute, vacated the trial court’s order, and remanded the case for the trial court to address the merits of the motion to disqualify under Colo. RPC 1.9(a).

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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

Ethics in the Electronic Age: Social Media Guidance for Attorneys

Do you have a LinkedIn account? How about a Facebook page? Twitter handle? Instagram? Blog? All of the above?

Have you ever considered the Rules of Professional Conduct when commenting on someone else’s Facebook post, or sharing a clever tweet, or even writing on your personal blog? If not, then you should.

Most lawyers are probably aware that there could be ethical implications to their professional use of social media, but personal use can also implicate the Rules. Learn more from Katrin Miller Rothgery of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in the video, below.

Ms. Rothgery’s presentation on Ethics in the Electronic Age was just one part of the 2017 Real Estate Spring Update. Purchase the full homestudy here, or call (303) 860-0608. CLE Pass Holders can access the MP3 and Video OnDemand homestudies for free. Find out more about the CLE Pass here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Mutuality is Necessary Element of Defensive Claim Preclusion

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Foster v. Plock on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Claim Preclusion—Issue Preclusion—Mutuality.

In this case, the supreme court considered whether mutuality is a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. Although multiple divisions of the court of appeals have concluded that mutuality need not be established for the defensive use of claim preclusion, the supreme court disagrees. Instead, the court concluded that mutuality is a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. The court also concluded that mutuality existed in this case, as did the remaining elements of claim preclusion, and therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals on other grounds.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

ABA Formal Ethics Opinion Issued Regarding Secured Communications of Client Information

On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released Formal Opinion 477, “Securing Communication of Protected Client Information.” The opinion discusses internet transmission of protected client information, concluding that:

A lawyer generally may transmit information relating to the representation of a client over the internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct where the lawyer has undertaken reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access. However, a lawyer may be required to take special security precautions to protect against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information when required by an agreement with the client or by law, or when the nature of the information requires a higher degree of security.

Formal Opinion 477 is an update to the basic confidentiality requirements addressed in Formal Opinion 99-413. The opinion was issued in response to the 2012 amendments to the ABA Model Rules in which technological competency was enunciated. This opinion discusses cybersecurity and measures that lawyers should take to safeguard client information, electing to reject requirements for specific security measures in favor of a fact-specific approach to business security obligations.

The opinion offers guidance on what reasonable steps an attorney may undertake in response to a cybersecurity threat, including:

  1. Understand the nature of the threat;
  2. Understand how confidential client information is transmitted and where it is stored;
  3. Understand and use reasonable security measures;
  4. Determine how electronic communications about client matters should be protected;
  5. Label confidential client information;
  6. Train lawyers and nonlawyer assistants in technology and information security; and
  7. Conduct due diligence on vendors providing communication technology.

To read the entire opinion, click here.

Why Good Lawyers Do Bad Things – Think It Can’t Happen to You?

High-Profile Lawyer Charged with Punching Client in Court,” Above the Law, October 30, 2015.

Storied Plaintiffs Lawyer Disbarred in Kentucky Over Excessive Fees,” National Law Journal, March 21, 2013.

Lawyer Charged with Forging Signatures of 7 Judges on Over 100 Court Documents,” Above the Law, February 24, 2016.

Biglaw Partner and Associate Destroyed Evidence, Suborned Perjury,” Above the Law, June 24, 2015

Headlines like these grab our attention, but they don’t give us much cause for concern. After all, we would NEVER do anything like that. But what about these?

“[Lawyer] agreed to represent a client in his immigration and criminal matters. On [Lawyer]’s advice, his client pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault. The client later regretted his decision to plead guilty, hired other counsel, successfully withdrew his plea, went to trial, and was acquitted.” People v. Romero, 16PDJ057, December 9, 2016.

“[Lawyer] was convicted five times of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). His most recent conviction took place in 2011. Through this conduct, [Lawyer] violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (a lawyer shall not commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects).” People v. Condon, 16PDJ050, December 23, 2016.

“In October 2015, [Lawyer] sought a $1,000.00 loan from a client to address cash flow problems. The client agreed, so [Lawyer] executed a promissory note in favor of the client, providing for 8% per annum interest and providing that the principal and interest would be due one month hence, in November 2015. The terms of the loan were fair and reasonable. But [Lawyer] did not advise the client in writing of the desirability of seeking independent legal counsel as to the transaction. Nor did he obtain the client’s written, informed consent to [Lawyer]’s role in the transaction, including whether [Lawyer] was representing the client in the transaction. [Lawyer] failed to pay the client by the agreed-upon date, though [Lawyer] did fully repay the client in March 2016. At that time, the client had not yet reported [Lawyer] to disciplinary authorities.” People v. Foster, 17PDJ018, March 15, 2017.

Do these still sound too far-fetched to you? How about these ones?

“Lawyer accepts $5,000 ‘flat fee,’ expecting a complex dispute, but skillfully resolves the matter in one hour. He then keeps the entire fee.”

“While [Lawyer] served as county attorney, he worked on legal issues involving third parties’ management of dirt track racing at El Paso County’s fairgrounds. He was involved with drafting a memorandum of understanding between the County and one of those third parties to address issues that exposed the County to liability. After [Lawyer] left the employ of El Paso County, the County faced ongoing legal issues with that same third party. In 2013, [Lawyer] began representing that party against El Paso County.”

“[Lawyer] is subject to several orders entered in Arapahoe County requiring him to pay child support, various child-related expenses, and child support arrearages. [Lawyer] paid just over half of the child support obligations he owed between June 2015 and November 2016. [Lawyer]’s failure to satisfy these obligations violated Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal) and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).”

“[Lawyer] failed to obey a court order to pay monthly child support and to satisfy child support arrearages. Her failure to honor her court-mandated obligations tarnished the integrity of the legal system and harmed her child. Her conduct violated Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal) and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).”

“[Lawyer] was retained by a client in March 2016 in a paternity case. Because he failed to pay registration fees, [Lawyer] was placed on administrative suspension on May 2, 2016. While suspended, [Lawyer] participated in a telephone conference with the court and set a status conference for June 2016.”

“[Lawyer], a bankruptcy attorney, was retained by a lawyer who had been disbarred for knowing conversion. The lawyer’s disbarment order required him to pay restitution to several former clients, as well as more than $220,000 to a medical lienholder. On the client’s behalf, [Lawyer] filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. He did so to stall a foreclosure sale on the client’s house in the hopes of protecting from creditors up to $105,000 in equity under the homestead exemption, and to avoid entangling the client’s second property in Crested Butte in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The petition showed that the client’s debt was over 99% of the allowable limit for Chapter 13 cases. The petition did not, however, list the $220,000 debt to the lienholder; instead, it characterized the amount of the debt as “unknown,” “unliquidated,” and “disputed.” Had that debt to the lienholder been included in the client’s total debt, the amount would have exceeded the Chapter 13 debt limit.”

Are you starting to feel uncomfortable? These situations and others are published monthly in The Colorado Lawyer. Although many of the disciplinary situations are too egregious to relate to, others could happen to anyone – even good lawyers like you.

If you ask any random group of people to rank how ethical they are on a scale of one to one hundred, responses will average about 75, meaning almost everyone is misjudging how they would react to actual ethical dilemmas. Studies regularly show a gap between an ethical goal (how ethical we aspire to be) and ethical judgment (what we actually do). This has been called “bounded ethicality,” and it examines why individuals fail to recognize that external influence and self-interest impact their ethical thinking.

Ethical decisions can be hard for anyone, but the stakes are higher for lawyers because the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct dictate lawyers’ ethical responsibility. The preamble to the Rules states, “Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system, and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. . . . The Rules do not . . . exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform a lawyer, for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules.” There are plenty of shades of grey in determining the ethical path, in other words.

On May 15, 2017, Christopher P. Montville of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell will present a one hour lunch program, “Why Good Lawyers Do Bad Things (And What to Do About it).” This can’t-miss program will explore the reasons why good people sometimes make bad choices, and how to avoid becoming a disciplinary summary in The Colorado Lawyer. Register today by calling (303) 860-0608 or clicking the links below.

 

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CLE Program: Why Good Lawyers Do Bad Things

This CLE presentation will occur on May 15, 2017, at the CLE Large Classroom (1900 Grant St., 3rd Floor) from noon to 1 p.m. Register for the live program here and the webcast here. You may also call (303) 860-0608 to register.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here — Video OnDemandMP3 Audio

Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline Amended in Rule Change 2017(03)

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Colorado State Judicial Branch released Rule Change 2017(03), amending the Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline. The rules were amended on April 20, 2017, and will become effective on July 1, 2017.

The rule changes were quite extensive. A redline is available here.  Several definitions were added to Rule 2, “Definitions,” and many other rules in Part A were changed, including Rule 4, “Jurisdiction and Powers,” Rule 5, “Grounds for Discipline,” Rule 6.5, “Confidentiality and Privilege,” and more. Part B was amended to change the title of the Part from “Preliminary Proceedings” to “Informal Proceedings,” and the rule changes in Part B were significant. There were minor changes to Part C, “Disability Proceedings.”

For a redline of Rule Change 2017(03), click here. For all of the Colorado Supreme Court’s adopted and proposed rule changes, click here.

Judicial Ethics Opinion Released Regarding Judges Contacting Political Representatives

On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board released C.J.E.A.B. Opinion 2017-01.

Opinion 2017-01 considers whether a judge may contact his or her federal congressional representatives to express approval or dissatisfaction with federal legislation or cabinet appointments if the judge reveals his or her name but not that he or she is a judge. The Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board determined that a judge may do so only in the narrowest of circumstances. The Board found that such contact would appear to implicate the judge’s personal opinions, which would likely amount to impropriety or the appearance of impropriety.

The Board, citing Rule 3.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, noted that the judge is permitted to consult with government officials in connection with matters concerning the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice or in connection with matters about which the judge acquired knowledge or expertise in the course of the judge’s judicial duties, as long as the consultation does not violate other provisions of the Code.

For the full text of C.J.E.A.B. Opinion 2017-01, click here. For all of the C.J.E.A.B. opinions, click here.