Occasionally a case regarding attorney misconduct will emerge with such force and clarity that it provides an instant learning opportunity for clarifying what constitutes legal malpractice.
Today’s blog post sketches the material details of such a case. Although the facts apply to matters that occurred outside California, the type of conduct described universally denotes what might be reasonably regarded as an almost classic example of attorney wrongdoing and resulting client harm.
Such an example underscores the impropriety of an attorney simultaneously representing two clients with diametrically opposing interests in a case involving the same or similar subject matter.
That was not in doubt, noted both an appellate court and Supreme Court in one state weighing in on what the former tribunal termed a “deeply troubling” matter.
To wit: The attorney was representing an elderly woman with dementia symptoms in a guardianship/conservatorship matter while simultaneously writing a will for a man who was being accused of exploiting her financially.
Such a fact pattern is reminiscent of case studies that are presented to law school students to highlight extreme examples of wrongful attorney conduct and legal malpractice.
In fact, the situation was deemed so disturbing by state authorities that a government agency initially sought judicial intervention via a petition asking for a guardian to be named for the woman. The attorney who represented her in that matter wrote the will for the man alleged to be exploiting her following his representation in the guardianship case.
What the appellate court found to be excessively troubling was that the will gave “all of her estate to the vey person whom the department was trying to protect her from.”
Ultimately, the state’s highest court weighed in on the matter, publicly reprimanding the lawyer.
Source: Omaha World-Herald, “Omaha attorney reprimanded for ‘deeply troubling’ misconduct,” Martha Stoddard, Oct. 2, 2015