April 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Potential Conflict of Interest Relevant in Determination of Prejudice to Defendant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Villanueva on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Benjamin Garcia-Diaz’s wife called the police for a domestic violence incident, and authorized a search of the residence. Police found $30,000 worth of cocaine during the search. Garcia-Diaz retained Charles Elliot to defend the domestic violence charges, and although the prosecution moved to add drug charges, the motion was still pending when Garcia-Diaz disappeared in March 2005. His body was found in September 2005, and Martin Villanueva was arrested for the murder.

Villanueva retained Elliot, who had represented him in the past. Elliot advised Villanueva that the prosecution might seek to disqualify him because of his prior representation with Garcia-Diaz, and later Elliot entered into an agreement with the prosecution where neither party would mention his prior representation of Garcia-Diaz. The trial court was never told about the conflict of interest.

At trial in 2006, the prosecution’s theory of the case was that Garcia-Diaz was about to enter into an agreement with the prosecution and would have laid the blame on Villanueva, his supplier, so Villanueva shot him at a crucial time. In fact, as Elliot knew, Garcia-Diaz had not negotiated at all with the prosecution and was not preparing to blame Villanueva, but because of his agreement Elliot could not rebut the prosecution’s theory.

Villanueva was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. He then filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion alleging that Elliot’s performance was deficient because he had a conflict of interest that adversely affected his trial performance. The district court denied the postconviction motion.

On appeal, the court of appeals evaluated Villanueva’s claims under the framework set forth in West v. People, 2015 CO 5, which clarified the correct standard for evaluating conflict of interest claims. Under West, to show an adverse effect from a conflict of interest, the defendant must identify a plausible defense or strategy, show that the alternative strategy was objectively reasonable, and establish that counsel’s failure to pursue the alternative strategy was linked to the conflict. Villanueva contended that Elliot was ineffective for failing to rebut the prosecution’s theory of the case. The trial court determined that because Villanueva showed only a potential conflict, not an actual conflict, his argument failed. However, under West, Villanueva needed only to show a potential conflict.

The court of appeals remanded for the district court to consider whether Elliot’s duties to Garcia-Diaz were inherently in conflict with Villanueva’s suggested alternative strategy of rebutting the prosecution’s evidence regarding whether Garcia-Diaz was about to snitch on Villanueva.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Use of Strawman Purchasers Not Fraudulent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. v. Davis Graham & Stubbs, LLP on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

Rocky Mountain Exploration (RMEI) owned oil and gas interests in leaseholds in North Dakota. In 2006, it sold 80% of its leasehold interest to Tracker. In 2009, Tracker attempted to purchase RMEI’s remaining 20% interest, but it was unsuccessful and relations between Tracker and RMEI became strained. Tracker then agreed to purchase the interest together with Lario, with Lario acting as Tracker’s agent in the purchase so that RMEI would not refuse to deal with Tracker.

Davis Graham & Stubbs (DGS) represented Tracker in the deal but refused to represent Lario due to a conflict of interest. However, DGS handled the negotiations for Lario and Tracker because of its representation of Tracker. Lario variously referred to DGS as its attorney, and DGS made no attempt to correct Lario’s mistake.

After the sale closed and RMEI discovered Tracker’s interest, RMEI sued Lario and Tracker, their officers individually, and DGS. All parties except DGS settled. RMEI asserted fraud and civil conspiracy claims against DGS based on the use of Lario as a “strawman” purchaser in the transaction. DGS moved for summary judgment, contending that RMEI could not establish a duty owed by DGS to support the fraud claims, and that RMEI had failed to establish that Tracker owed RMEI fiduciary duties. The district court agreed with DGS and granted its motion, also ruling that the use of a strawman purchaser is not fraudulent.

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that agents are frequently used in business transactions and there is nothing fraudulent about using a strawman purchaser. The court of appeals noted that RMEI’s situation did not fit the narrow circumstances allowing a third party to avoid a contract, and that RMEI could have insisted on a contractual prohibition on assignment of interests.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to DGS.

The Colorado Lawyer: Effective Conflict Waivers

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note:
The references to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” in this series of articles in the “Whoops—Legal Malpractice Prevention” department are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Rather, these references reflect actual experience and results from defending legal malpractice claims, where attorneys are often best served if they follow the best practice rather than simply complying with the bare minimum that the Rules of Professional Conduct require.

For example, as explained in this article on “Effective Conflict Waivers,” a client’s oral consent to a conflict waiver should always be confirmed in writing for an obvious reason—to avoid factual disputes that may result from differing recollections or testimony. Hence, the best practice is to obtain a written confirmation signed by the client. This protects both the attorney and the client because it reduces the risk that the client will later disclaim having provided the consent. The Colorado Rules, however, also permit the attorney to document the client’s consent to the waiver in a writing provided to the client, although experience suggests that this is not a best practice. In any event, as stated in the article, the writing, whether obtained by or transmitted to the client, must be created within a reasonable time of obtaining the client’s oral consent to the conflict waiver. The authors welcome and comments and feedback on these articles and are happy to discuss them.


By performing fast and broad computer searches, attorneys and law firms are able to identify potential conflicts of interest. But, like the dog that catches the bus, many attorneys encountering a potential conflict invariably face the important question of “What now?”

Identifying potential conflicts of interest is only half the battle. The other half requires attorneys to seek and obtain the client’s written consent to the representation after obtaining informed consent. After all, a potential conflict of interest that has not been resolved in accordance with the applicable ethical rules is still a conflict.

Informed Consent for Purposes of Resolving Potential Conflicts

Informed consent is required to enable a client to make an educated decision regarding whether to agree or object to a representation. For a former client, it involves accepting the risk that the attorney could use confidential information against the former client on behalf of a new client. For current clients who share an attorney, it involves waiving the right to insist that the attorney protect only their interests, as opposed to protecting their collective interests with the other clients.

According to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules), to obtain informed consent, an attorney must provide a full disclosure that demonstrates he or she has made reasonable efforts to ensure that the client or other person has obtained information reasonably adequate to make an informed decision.[1] Comment 6 to Rule 1 explains, in relevant part:

Ordinarily, this will require communication that includes a disclosure of the facts and circumstances giving rise to the situation, any explanation reasonably necessary to inform the client or other person of the material advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of conduct and a discussion of the client’s or other person’s options and alternatives. . . . [A] lawyer who does not personally inform the client or other person assumes the risk that the client or other person is inadequately informed and the consent is invalid.

For the disclosure to be effective, it must enable a former or existing client to fully appreciate the risks of granting consent. It is not sufficient for an attorney to simply advise a client that there is a potential conflict of interest and to ask for consent without providing an explanation and additional information.

A Simple Waiver Isn’t Enough

Similarly, it is not sufficient merely to confirm a client’s waiver of the conflict and consent to the representation. An effective disclosure requires more. The Rules require that an attorney

propose a course of conduct to [the client or other person] with adequate information and explanation about the material risks of [giving consent] and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.[2]

In general terms, this means that an attorney should disclose whatever information a reasonable person would expect and need before waiving an important right.

There are topics that every attorney should include when seeking a client’s consent or waiver. However, there is no template that attorneys can use as a form for full disclosure when seeking a client’s consent to a representation, because the type and content of a disclosure required for effective consent varies depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific representation. For example, the scope and content of full disclosure will often depend on the sophistication of the client, the nature of the representation, prior representations, and the length of the relationship.[3]

Written Consent

Does the client’s consent have to be in writing? Under the Rules, the answer is yes. Rules 1.7(b)(4) and 1.9(a) require that informed consent be “confirmed in writing.” Comment 20 of Rule 1.7 further requires that the writing be obtained or transmitted within a “reasonable time” after receipt of oral consent. Additionally, Comment 20 emphasizes the importance of written consent:

[T]he writing is required in order to impress upon clients the seriousness of the decision the client is being asked to make and to avoid disputes or ambiguities that might later occur in the absence of a writing.

Invariably, once problems arise, clients have different recollections about the extent of the disclosure, their understanding of the risks, and whether they consented to the representation. That is why the safest way to proceed is to require that all clients consent in writing to a multiple or successive representation.

The easiest course is to include a signature line on the full disclosure letter and have the client return an executed copy. This simple measure serves to protect both the client (by making sure the client receives full disclosure in writing) and the attorney.

Client Consultation: Next Steps

Now that you have a client in your office, what steps should you take? First, identify the proposed representation and then state what consent the attorney seeks. General waivers involve a different kind of disclosure than a limited waiver for a specific representation. Hence, tailoring the full disclosure necessarily involves clarifying exactly which type of waiver the attorney seeks.

In the multiple representation context, this means advising the client that the attorney is requesting permission to jointly represent the client along with others. In the successive representations context, this means advising a former client that the attorney is requesting permission to represent a new client in a matter involving the former client.[4]

Second, identify the risks. There should be no mincing of words when disclosing the potential risks to a client. Subtle implication and suggestion do little when an attorney is attempting later to prove that a client consented to a representation after full disclosure. To be effective, the disclosure should clearly and plainly articulate the risks so that, if necessary, a court can determine that the client understood and accepted the risks by providing consent to the representation.

In the multiple representation context, this means identifying the kinds of things that an attorney cannot and will not do because the representation involves more than one client. For example, the attorney will not explore or pursue claims by one client against another client, such as opposing parties in the same transaction, a testator and beneficiary of a will, or spouses in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. Similarly, a lawyer who prosecuted a case could not subsequently represent the accused in a civil action against the government involving the same facts.[5] In addition, information communicated by one client may be disclosed to the other clients. Other limitations on the attorney’s ability to act may also need to be disclosed, depending on the context.

The important point is to ensure that the consenting clients understand the limitations that arise from a joint representation, as opposed to the representation of a single client. In the successive representation context, this means explaining the risk that the attorney may have learned confidential information that may be used on behalf of a new client. The standard is not whether an attorney actually did learn confidential information in the prior representation that can be used against a former client. Instead, to trigger an attorney’s obligation to obtain a former client’s consent, all that is required is that the new representation be “substantially related” to the former representation.[6] The existence of confidential information is presumed.

Third, advise the clients of their right to consult with independent counsel in deciding whether to agree to the multiple or successive representation. The safest course is to encourage independent counsel on all issues arising out of the potential conflict of interest.

Importantly, an attorney seeking a client’s consent should not advise a client on whether to give consent. Instead, the attorney’s role should be limited to fully disclosing the risks without actually advising the client about whether to give consent.

Fourth, confirm what will happen if an actual conflict develops that precludes the continued representation. Clients may agree, for example, that the attorney may continue to represent one of the clients if an actual conflict develops. Alternatively, the clients may insist that, under such circumstances, an attorney withdraw from the entire representation. In either case, it is important that the clients agree before the representation begins.

Both the multiple and successive representation rules require a consultation with the attorney for the client to consent. In most cases, the consultation will be in person. Unfortunately, although it is important to answer any questions a client may have, the consultation actually does little to protect an attorney from a later allegation challenging the client’s consent to the representation.

In addition to the consultation, there must be a written component. The most important document for effective consent is a writing, typically a letter. The letter should be jointly addressed to all of the clients (for a multiple representation), or to the former client (for successive representations), and should include a discussion of all the material risks of the representation.

Conclusion

Effective conflict waivers require a writing confirming the affected clients’ informed consent. There is no checklist or formula that an attorney can use in discussing conflict waivers with a client, or in drafting a written waiver for the client’s execution. These must be tailored to the unique circumstances of each situation. The four steps above, however, provide a helpful starting point for the attorney.


Notes

[1] See, e.g., Colo. RPC 1, cmt. [6].

[2] Colo. RPC 1.0(e).

[3] See Colo. RPC 1.7, cmt. [22] for additional information on how the effectiveness of informed consent will be evaluated.

[4] See Colo. RPC 1.9, cmt. [1]. A client transitions from a current client to a former client when the attorney–client relationship is terminated, such as when the attorney or the client provides the other with a writing confirming that the relationship has concluded.

[5] See Colo. RPC 1.9, cmt. [1].

[6] See Colo. RPC 1.9(a).

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The Colorado Lawyer: Conflicts Check—Just Do It

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note
Readers’ comments and feedback on this series of “WhoopsLegal Practice Malpractice Prevention” articles are welcomed and appreciated. References in the articles to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Often, best practices and safest courses involve more than just complying with the Rules. In practice, compliance with the Rules can and should avoid a finding of discipline in response to a grievance or a finding of liability in response to a malpractice claim. However, because most claims and grievances are meritless, effective risk management in the modern law practice involves much more. Hence, best practices and safer courses of action do more; they help prevent and more quickly defeat meritless claims and grievances. Other than billing, there is virtually nothing that attorneys dread more than addressing potential conflicts of interest. After all, resolving conflicts issues requires and attorney to focus on why not to take on a new representation rather than how to get the business in the door. However, unidentified or unresolved conflict issues cost lawyers more—in both clients and money—than most attorrneys realize.


Legal publications are replete with articles about motions to disqualify, disciplinary cases, and legal malpractice claims based on an unidentified or unresolved conflict of interest. Even when successfully defended, conflict-based allegations cost lawyers time and money. When lawyers lose, the risks are serious. The attorney could be disqualified from representing the client, face discipline for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, receive an unfavorable jury verdict, or be forced to pay punitive damages based on a finding of disloyalty. The Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge (PDJ) takes conflicts of interest violations very seriously.[1]

In addition, judges and juries may well disregard defenses to claims (such as the protections of independent professional judgment or “trial tactics”) based on a breach of the lawyer’s fundamental fiduciary duty of loyalty to the client. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, the path of least resistance when a new client walks in the door is to get started on the case without performing even a rudimentary conflicts check. When it comes to conflicts, however, haste really does make waste.

Rule 1: Identify Conflicts Before Representation

Conflicts do not get better with time and cannot simply be undone. Once a conflict-laden representation begins, one cannot simply give back the confidences and secrets and forget it ever happened. When the attorney–client relationship attaches under a cloud of a potential or actual conflict of interest, there is no going back to the way things were before. For this reason, the attorney must identify and resolve conflicts of interest before the attorney–client relationship begins. It is one of those areas where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound (if not a ton) of cure.

Rule 2: Grant No Exceptions

With conflicts, systems aimed at 100% compliance are critical. Inevitably, it is that one representation that escaped the system that creates the most problems. Typically, the reasons for operating outside the conflicts process for one representation (the client is too important, the case is too complicated, the attorney is too rushed) are the same reasons the conflict analysis was so important for that representation. Hence, the single most important part of conflicts analysis is compliance without exception.

The challenge, then, is to address conflicts as painlessly as possible. The easier and faster the system is, the more likely it will be that every lawyer will “run conflicts” on every representation.

One last point on the “no exceptions” rule bears emphasis. Every new representation—even if it does not involve a new client—should be screened for conflicts. Conflicts screening should be done each time a new party becomes involved as a plaintiff, defendant, lender, buyer, or seller. Also note that, although computers make conflicts screening much easier, they are no substitute in the final conflicts analysis for involving lawyers in the process. Effective conflicts procedures involve both.

Spotting Actual and Potential Conflicts

Attorneys in Colorado must comply with Rules 1.7 and 1.8 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern conflicts. There are two kinds of conflicts: actual conflicts and potential conflicts. The distinctions between each are worth noting.

Actual Conflicts

An actual conflict means that the conflict cannot be waived by disclosure or consent; the attorney simply cannot accept the representation. One type of actual conflict is direct adversity, which occurs when the needs of one client are directly adverse to the needs of another client. For example, a law firm cannot represent both a plaintiff and a defendant in the same lawsuit (although it has been tried). Effective conflicts systems identify direct adversity conflicts and make it impossible to open a matter when they arise.

Potential Conflicts

A potential conflict means that there is some issue that must be addressed before a lawyer can accept the representation. Typically, the issue is some form of consent or waiver from either the new client, another client, or a former client.

There are two types of potential conflicts: successive representations and multiple representations. Although they are different, the waiver is largely the same—full disclosure and consent. In both situations, the attorney must provide full disclosure to all of their clients and obtain their written consent before taking on the representation.

Successive representation. Successive representation conflict rules involve potential conflicts between a current (or prospective) client and a former client. Under the conflict rules, a lawyer cannot represent a new client in a matter substantially related to the representation of a former client without the former client’s consent after full disclosure.

Although there are many cases defining “substantially related,” the essence is whether the lawyer learned (or could have learned) confidential information from the old client that could be used in the new representation for the new client. If the answer is no—the lawyer did not and could not have learned confidences and secrets that could now be used—then the lawyer should be able to accept the new representation. If the answer is yes (and lawyers should assume the answer is yes when in doubt), then the lawyer should provide full disclosure to the former client and acquire his or her consent in writing before taking on the new representation.

Multiple representation. Multiple representation conflict rules involve potential conflicts arising out of the representation of more than one client. Many lawyers overcomplicate the analysis; it is actually pretty straightforward. If there is more than one client, then the multiple representation rules should be applied.

In most situations, the potential conflict is easy to spot—there is more than one client listed on the new matter form, so the rules have to be applied. However, sometimes the conflict is not so apparent. These situations can arise out of probate litigation (representing the executor, estate, and heirs); securities litigation (representing both the corporation and the directors/officers); domestic litigation (representing the parents and the children); and bankruptcies (representing multiple creditors).

Whenever there is more than one client, the lawyer should ask (1) Are there things I might do differently if I represented only one of the clients? and (2) Could changes down the road create adversity between the clients? If the answer to both questions is no, then there may be no conflict. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney may be able to accept the representation without further investigation. If the answer to either question is yes, then there is a potential conflict that requires a more thorough analysis. This analysis involves determining whether the lawyer can adequately represent the interests of all of the clients. If the answer to this question is no, then there is an actual conflict.

A simple way to establish whether there is an actual conflict is to determine if the clients’ interests are linked in any way. In a contested divorce proceeding, for example, no lawyer could advance one spouse’s interests without impacting the interests of the other spouse. Therefore, the representation of a wife and husband in a contested divorce proceeding is not permissible with or without consent.

Conclusion

Conflicts do not have to be complicated. They just require practice discipline and proper analysis. Before the representation begins, get the names and run the conflicts. Adopt the mantra “Just Do It!”


Note

[1] See People v. Layton, No. 13PDJ036 (PDJ Sept. 25, 2013) (suspending an attorney in part due to violation of Colo. RPC 1.8(e), which prohibits an attorney from providing financial assistance to a client involved in pending litigation).

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Supreme Court: Actual Conflict Requires Showing of Both Conflict of Interest and Adverse Effect

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in West v. People on Tuesday, January 20, 2015.

Conflicts of Interest—Post-Conviction and Extraordinary Relief—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

In these appeals, defendants alleged that their trial counsel labored under conflicts of interest because counsel concurrently or successively represented trial witnesses against them. The court of appeals remanded both cases to the trial courts to determine whether, under Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335 (1980), defendants’ attorneys labored under an “actual conflict.” Defendants separately petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgments, asking the court to clarify whether the Sullivan standard requires a defendant to demonstrate, in addition to a conflict of interest, that an “adverse effect” arose from the conflict.

In People v. Castro, 657 P.2d 932 (Colo. 1983), the Supreme Court held that an adverse effect was inherent in a “real and substantial” conflict of interest and thus a separate showing was unnecessary. In this consolidated opinion, the Court overruled Castro because the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that an actual conflict, under the Sullivan standard, requires a defendant to show both a conflict of interest and an adverse effect on his or her attorney’s performance.

The Court held that to show an adverse effect, a defendant must (1) identify a plausible alternative defense strategy or tactic that trial counsel could have pursued; (2) show that the alternative strategy or tactic was objectively reasonable under the facts known to counsel at the time of the strategic decision; and (3) establish that counsel’s failure to pursue the strategy or tactic was linked to the actual conflict. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals’ judgments in part and instructed the trial courts to consider whether, under this framework, defendants received ineffective assistance of counsel by virtue of their attorneys’ alleged conflicts and are therefore entitled to new trials.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Unreasonably Denied Defense Counsel’s Motion to Withdraw Despite Irreconcilable Conflict of Interest

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. DeAtley on Monday, June 16, 2014.

CAR 21 Original Proceeding in Criminal Case—Defense Counsel Motion to Withdraw—Implied Waiver of the Right to Counsel—Arguello Advisement.

The Supreme Court held that the trial court unreasonably and unfairly determined that the attorneys in this case could effectively represent defendant, despite his discharge of them and the trial court’s previous finding that a conflict of interest existed between defense counsel and defendant due to defendant’s filing of a malpractice and breach of contract lawsuit against defense counsel. After concluding that defendant was engaging in trial-delaying conduct, the trial court chose the wrong remedy and thereby abused its discretion. The trial court’s finding that the attorneys could balance their personal interests implicated by defendant’s actions with their obligation to represent him was arbitrary, unreasonable, and unfair given the trial court’s first finding that a conflict existed. It should have granted the motion to withdraw and proceeded in accordance with Crim.P. 44(a), advising defendant that he had the obligation to hire other counsel, request the appointment of counsel by the court, or elect to represent himself. In view of defendant’s delay-causing conduct, the trial court should have given him an Arguello advisement, explaining the consequences of engaging in trial-delaying conduct, which can result in an implied waiver of the right to counsel, and explaining the risks of proceeding without counsel. [See People v. Arguello, 772 P.2d 87, 92–94 (Colo. 1989)]. The Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to withdraw and made the rule absolute.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Motion for Reconsideration Did Not Toll Time Period for Filing C.A.R. 4.2 Petition for Interlocutory Review

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of A.M.C. on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

Interlocutory Appeal—CAR 4.2.

On October 23, 2013, the Denver Department of Human Health Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect, asserting that the minor child was dependent or neglected by respondent parents. At a custody hearing eleven days later before a magistrate, the respondent mother denied the allegations and requested a jury trial.

On November 5, 2013, the Department disclosed to mother and her attorney that a paralegal employed by the city attorney’s human services legal staff was the aunt of the father. Even though the father’s whereabouts were unknown and he had not participated in the case, mother asserted to the juvenile court on November 12 that this created a conflict of interest. The juvenile court agreed and ordered appointment of a special prosecutor.

On November 20, the Department filed a motion for reconsideration. The juvenile court orally denied the motion on December 10. The Department filed a motion for certification of the disqualification order for the purpose of interlocutory appeal on December 23, 2013. The juvenile court granted the motion on January 2, 2014, and the Department filed its petition in the Court on January 9, 2014.

The Court of Appeals questioned the timeliness of the motion for certification and requested that the parties provide briefs on the issue. The Department submitted a brief. The Court held that the disqualification order was not timely sought and that the Department had not demonstrated good cause to enlarge the time prescribed in CAR 4.2.

CAR 4.2(c) requires that a party seeking to file an interlocutory appeal move for certification or submit a stipulation signed by all parties “within 14 days after the date of the order to be appealed.” CAR 4.2(d) provides that after the trial court certifies an order for interlocutory appeal, “the party seeking an appeal shall file a petition to appeal with the clerk of the court of appeals with an advisory copy served on the clerk of the trial court within 14 days of the date of the trial court’s certification.”

The Department asserted it motion for certification was timely filed because its motion for reconsideration does not toll the time period for filing, the oral order was on November 12, and therefore the motion for certification was due by November 26 but was not filed until December 23. CAR 26(b) allows the deadline in CAR 4.2(d) to be extended “for good cause shown.” To obtain such an extension, a party must establish that its failure to meet the applicable deadline was due to “excusable neglect.” The Court found that the Department’s belief that the motion for reconsideration tolled the time period did not constitute excusable neglect. The interlocutory appeal was dismissed.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Record Failed to Show Trial Counsel Labored Under Conflict of Interest That Deprived Defendant of Effective Assistance of Counsel

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Flood on Thursday, May 9, 2013.

In January 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil suit against ClearOne Communications (ClearOne), as well as the company’s CEO, Frances Flood, and CFO, Susie Strohm. The SEC alleged that Ms. Flood and her codefendants had employed a scheme to defraud, falsely filed with the SEC, committed securities fraud, kept false records, and aided and abetted false bookkeeping. The law firm of Snow Christensen & Martineau (SCM) was retained to represent Ms. Flood.  The parties were at all times represented by separate counsel. During the SEC proceedings, Ms. Flood, Ms. Strohm, and ClearOne entered into a Joint Defense Privilege and Confidentiality Agreement (Joint Defense Agreement), which enabled them to share documents, litigation strategies, and other information without waiving attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, Ms. Flood settled with the SEC.

Around the same time, Ms. Flood executed an Employment Separation and Indemnification Agreement (Separation Agreement) with ClearOne. Under the Separation Agreement, Ms. Flood agreed to resign as CEO and surrender her stock options in exchange for $350,000 and ClearOne’s promise to indemnify her “for any liability and all reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by her in connection with the SEC Action or any Related Proceedings.”

Subsequently, the government brought criminal charges against Ms. Flood and Ms. Strohm. SCM continued to represent Ms. Flood, sending invoices for its attorney’s fees to ClearOne. Initially, ClearOne paid SCM’s invoices as they became due. However, in October 2007, ClearOne requested detailed information pertaining to Ms. Flood’s representation. SCM had learned that ClearOne was sharing materials prepared under the Joint Defense Agreement with the government. Accordingly, SCM refused ClearOne’s request, explaining that it would not “disclose work product and attorney-client information.”

In April 2008, ClearOne ceased paying Ms. Flood’s attorney’s fees. Ms. Flood, represented by SCM, brought suit against ClearOne to compel payment. SCM continued to represent Ms. Flood in the criminal proceedings.

In January 2009, the court granted a preliminary injunction against ClearOne, ordering ClearOne to pay Ms. Flood’s attorney’s fees. ClearOne initially complied, but stopped making payments. SCM filed a motion to compel payment. Shortly before the criminal trial concluded, ClearOne made another payment. The jury found Ms. Flood guilty on all counts.

Ms. Flood then filed her § 2255 motion, arguing that she received ineffective assistance of counsel because her attorneys labored under a conflict of interest. The district court denied her motion. Ms. Flood appealed to the Tenth Circuit, arguing that: 1) conflicts of interest adversely affected her trial counsel’s performance; 2) the district court abused its discretion by denying her motions for an evidentiary hearing, discovery, and judicial notice; and 3) she was denied effective assistance of counsel under Strickland.

The Tenth Circuit granted a Certificate of Appealability limited to issues one and two.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the “right to representation that is free from conflicts of interest.” Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261, 271 (1981). To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim the defendant must show that her counsel’s performance was deficient and that prejudice resulted. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 692 (1984). However, “[p]rejudice is presumed only if the defendant demonstrates that counsel ‘actively represented conflicting interests’ and that ‘an actual conflict of interest adversely affected [her] lawyer’s performance.’” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 692.

After a thorough review of the record, the Tenth Circuit found that Ms. Flood offered no evidence that would suggest SCM served ClearOne’s interests instead of hers. The Court simply could not find a conflict of interest based on the facts.

Further, having carefully reviewed the entire record, including the trial transcript, the Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion by the district court in denying an evidentiary hearing. Nor did the Court find any abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of Ms. Flood’s motions for discovery and judicial notice.

AFFIRMED.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant’s Right to Counsel of Choice Outweighs Right to Conflict-Free Representation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. Nozolino on Monday, March 25, 2013.

Disqualification—Waiver of Right to Conflict—Free Counsel.

The Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it disqualified defendant’s counsel of choice, Rosalie Roy and Kimberly Chalmers, from representing him in this case. The Court analyzed the factors critical to the determination of whether defendant must be allowed to waive conflict-free representation, and found that the balance weighed in favor of defendant’s preference for continued representation by Roy and Chalmers. Accordingly, the Court made the rule absolute and remanded the case for an advisement on the record so that defendant may decide whether to waive conflict-free representation.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Out-of-State Counsel Should be Disqualified from Representing Plaintiff Pro Hac Vice when Attorney at Out-of-State Firm Consulted with Defendant

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Liebnow v. Boston Enterprises, Inc. on Monday, February 4, 2013.

Pro Hac Vice Admission—Colo. RPC 1.7 and 1.10—Confidential Client Information.

The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order disqualifying plaintiff’s motion for pro hac vice admission of out-of-state counsel, where defense counsel previously had consulted out-of-state counsel at the same firm on the same case. The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that (1) the consultation between defense counsel and out-of-state counsel concerned confidential information, which created a conflict under Colo. RPC 1.7(a)(2); and (2) the conflict was not waivable under Colo. RPC 1.7(b) because allowing the consulted attorney to represent plaintiff would undermine the fairness of the trial. The Court further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imputing the conflict to the rest of the firm under Colo. RPC 1.10 and disqualifying the firm.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Convictions and Sentences Affirmed in Case Arising from Defendants’ Operation of Medical Clinic

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Schneider on Wednesday, January 16, 2013.

Dr. Stephen Schneider was a doctor of osteopathic medicine and his wife, Ms. Schneider, was a licensed nurse (“the Schneiders”). They owned and operated Schneider Medical Clinic in Haysville, Kansas, where they provided pain management treatment, including the prescription of controlled substances. A Kansas grand jury indicted the Schneiders. At trial, they were convicted of several counts of unlawful drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering arising from their operation of the Medical Clinic. The district court sentenced Dr. Schneider to 360 months’ imprisonment, and Ms. Schneider to 396 months’ imprisonment. The Schneiders appeal their convictions, alleging that (1) they were denied the right to conflict-free representation; (2) the district court erroneously admitted expert testimony; (3) the district court improperly instructed the jury; and (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of health care fraud resulting in death.

(1) The Schneiders argue they were denied the right to conflict-free representation.

The Tenth Circuit held Dr. and Ms. Schneider waived all potential conflicts voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, based on the totality of the circumstances, following two hearings on potential conflicts.

(2) The Schneiders contend the district court erroneously admitted expert testimony.

Dr. Parran, an expert witness for the government, testified “the clinic was at fault” for illegal drug distribution. Dr. Parran also testified that, from his review of the records, the Schneiders ran a “dishonest practice.” Another expert witness for the government, Dr. Jorgensen, opined that the Schneiders’ health care fraud resulted in patients’ deaths, and that he believed the Schneiders filed fraudulent claims. The Schneiders objected to this testimony.

The rules of evidence allow an expert to opine on an “ultimate issue” to be decided by the trier of fact. Fed. R. Evid. 704(a). However, an expert may not simply tell the jury what result it should reach; he or she must explain the basis for any summary opinion. Here, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the admission of Drs. Parran and Jorgensen’s testimony. Neither doctor told the jury to reach a particular verdict, i.e., that Dr. Schneider was guilty. Rather, after explaining at great length their observations from the evidence, they summarized their findings in their testimony.

(3) Defendants allege the district court improperly instructed the jury.

The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of  discretion in the jury instructions objected to at trial, considering de novo the instructions as a whole to determine whether they accurately informed the jury of the governing law. The Tenth Circuit found no plain error in the instructions objected to for the first time on appeal.

(4) The Schneiders argue there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of health care fraud resulting in death.

After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to ascertain whether any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the Tenth Circuit held sufficient evidence supported the convictions on these counts.

AFFIRMED.