Sometimes, people assume that attorneys do not need to hire attorneys. However, the truth is that attorneys in Manhattan understand that only a fool will defend themselves. Hiring an attorney to represent a person who has incurred a personal injury is the smart thing to do. Lawyers are people, too. That means that there are times when a lawyer will hire a lawyer to help them defend themselves from a situation. These situations can come in the form of automobile accidents, estate matters, real estate matters, or personal injury. There are even times when an attorney is required to hire another attorney to defend them against a criminal matter.
Recently, in 2012, a prominent attorney was called upon to defend himself from charges of DUI that stemmed from his driving in the city of Atlanta. He slid through a traffic light at three in the morning when he thought that no one was around on his way home from a meeting with state legislatures where he had consumed two glasses of wine with dinner. Although, his driving had not endangered anyone, and he had not demonstrated any level of impairment by failing to maintain his lane of traffic, the officer who stopped him asked that he perform field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are voluntary. However, if you choose to perform them, your demeanor and the results of the tests can be used against you in a court of law. The attorney decided that he would not participate. He refused to participate and he was arrested by the officer for DUI and taken for a mandatory test under the laws of the state. The charges were eventually dropped with the help of a DUI attorney that was hired by the arrested attorney to defend him. Even attorneys need one every now and then.
Another case in Staten Island that involved an attorney who required legal assistance from a specialist in the field, involved a case of defamation and breach of contract that was filed by an attorney in the State of New York in 2006. The complainant attorney was not getting along with the other attorneys in her firm and decided to resign. When she left the firm, several of the clients that she had been serving chose to leave that firm and maintain her as their lawyer. The controlling partner of the law firm wrote several letters to these clients encouraging them to leave her and return to his firm. The complaining lawyer, filed a lawsuit alleging that the managing partner of her previous firm had defamed her character and breached the hiring contract that she had with him. The managing partner filed a motion with the New York State Court System to grant him a motion of summary judgment dismissing her case against him for lack of evidence.
The complaining attorney stated that she had resigned because as her letter of resignation showed, she believed that she would soon be called to testify in disciplinary actions by the legal disciplinary committee against that firm for unethical conduct. The defendant law firm contends that the complainant poached clients and removed client case files without first obtaining permission from the firm. The firm claimed that they were owed legal fees from the cases and clients that chose to leave the firm and follow the complainant to her own firm. The complainant contends that the firm committed libel against her by sending letters to these clients that portrayed her as a novice with no experience. They claimed that she had not won any cases and was considered incompetent by the firm. The letters encouraged these clients to return to the firm since the complainant would not be able to properly attend to their cases. The letters claimed that she would not be able to disperse any winnings to them until the courts had sorted out the liens that his firm against her for attorney’s fees associated with the work that the firm considers to have been done by them. The letters inflated the possible monetary damages that the client should expect to receive in their cases by comparing their case to one that he claimed to have won for a large dollar amount. The letters were packed with exaggerated claims and derogatory comments toward the attorney who had parted from the firm.
The firm contends that the statements that were made in the letters should be protected by the qualified common interest privilege or by the absolute privilege that is between attorney and client. They contend that the statements in the letters were all either true or were non-actionable opinions aimed at providing legal advice. Because of this, they claim that the comments were not defamatory and the court should dismiss the suit. The complainant, maintains that the comments were defamatory because they were designed by the firm to injure her in her business and profession and that since the firm was no longer representing the clients, they could not confer attorney client privilege in their cases.
She further claims that she had a contract with the firm to provide her with a bonus each time a case was won. She stated that while the contract was not written, it was common knowledge in the firm that every attorney who won a case received a bonus. She stated that she had not received a bonus for a case that was won on her work the month after she left the firm and that she deserved a bonus for that work. The original trial court agreed with the complainant attorney. They felt that because the firm was no longer representing the clients that there was no longer an attorney client privilege to be protected in a letter that was unsolicited from the clients.
Further, the original trial court maintained that the comments in the letters were intended to cast aspersions on the conduct and reputation of the complainant attorney. As such, there was a triable issue of fact that should go before a jury because the comments were susceptible of being interpreted as defamatory. The firm maintained that they shared a common interest in the outcome of these client’s cases because they expected to share in the damages if the complainant attorney should win the cases. The law says that a qualified privilege exists when a person has an interest that is either legal, moral, or a social duty to speak if that person shares an interest in the object of conversation. The boundary in this case is if the comments were made with malice. If they are, then a common interest privilege does not exist. The original trial court determined that the comments made in this case did not qualify for a common privilege because they were clearly made with malice.
While the original trial court agreed with the complainant attorney, on appeal the firm won the argument by having the case dismissed. The Supreme Court of New York County did deny the firm’s request to dismiss the first, second, and tenth causes of action and the case was dismissed as to the contractual issue.