Where’s the Real Crime? The Injustice of Criminal Defense Malpractice

Imagine being accused of assault. You know that, at the time, you were miles away with several witnesses. Nothing to worry about, right? But months later, you find yourself convicted and incarcerated.

This kind of personal calamity is an example of what can happen to a person’s life when he or she becomes a victim of criminal defense malpractice.

The criminal side of legal malpractice

We’ve discussed what constitutes legal malpractice and why civil litigation attorneys should not shy away from these cases. We’ve detailed the impact on the victims of civil cases where justice has been derailed by legal malpractice.

However, the legal risks for the defendant are amplified when legal malpractice occurs in criminal law. In civil litigation, the outcome usually centers around financial compensation for damages (though civil litigation cases, when settled without a trial,  may include conditions that are not financial).

The outcome of a criminal case is likely to involve something more precious than money. What’s potentially at stake, for the defendant, is his or her liberty, and often, drastic reputational harm. When a defendant is convicted in a criminal case through neglected evidence or attorney inexperience, there are options for recourse through civil litigation.

Oversight leads to criminal defense malpractice

The case cited above was real—it involved our client.

In this case, the accused, George Hamilton* encountered the drunken complainant (a boyfriend of one of George’s employees) in a parking lot around midnight.  There was no fight and no assault.  Hours later, in a separate incident, the boyfriend was assaulted in his apartment by several individuals. George was indicted for the assault. Multiple witnesses could have provided an unimpeachable alibi for George, but they weren’t called to testify—or even interviewed—by his criminal defense attorney. Worse, at trial the defense attorney became confused and questioned George repeatedly about the parking lot encounter, and the jury convicted him for that (even though it wasn’t mentioned in the indictment).

Because of the defense attorney’s mishandling of the case, George was imprisoned for three years for a crime he could not have committed and for which he was never legally charged.  Fortunately, his conviction was eventually overturned, and he was released from prison.  He came to us for justice and we sued the criminal defense attorney and obtained a substantial jury verdict in his favor.

In this case, the defendant was wrongfully imprisoned—not as a result of criminal actions, but because of criminal defense malpractice. If you have been injured through legal malpractice that calls for civil litigation, give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case

How Patent Legal Malpractice Can Devastate a Business

As a business owner, one of the most valuable things you can get from an attorney is a sound opinion, one based on facts and knowledge of the law. That opinion doesn’t guarantee your success, but it should assure you that there are no legal impediments that will keep you from moving your business forward.

A legal opinion should reflect careful crafting and thorough research. Opinions bandied around the water cooler are free, but an attorney’s opinion comes at a price and if he or she makes a mistake out of ignorance or a lack of due diligence, it’s too often more than just an “oops.” A faulty legal opinion can be devastating to a business and to the all the lives connected to it, from the owner to the investors to all the employees and their families.

 We’ve talked about the issue of legal malpractice, and how its victims are just as deserving of legal representation and fair compensation as the victims of personal injury or wrongful death. The question that must be asked before pursuing a legal malpractice case is, “Did the attorney, in this case, meet the minimum ‘standard of care?’” If not, there may be grounds for a lawsuit.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys address a patent oversight

A recent case provides—unfortunately—a clear example of legal malpractice in business law. The client, Xpansion, Inc.*, was looking to bring an exciting new product to the market. Xpansion had hired a patent law firm to get its product patented and, thereby, gain the exclusive right to sell it. The company was charged a hefty fee by the firm to conduct the patent search and file the necessary paperwork.

Such a fee would normally be justified considering the time and effort involved in obtaining a patent—except in this case, the law firm failed do its job. It turned out that there was already “prior art” for this idea, meaning it was not free and clear to be patented. Xpansion’s attorneys should have caught this problem early on but didn’t. And, based on the faulty guidance it received, Xpansion revved up its manufacturing and distribution plans, investing millions of dollars in a product that ultimately couldn’t be patented.

It is the responsibility of a patent attorney to find instances of prior art in a preliminary patent search. With more than 300,000 patents granted in 2015 alone, it’s not unusual for a company or individual to come up with an idea that someone else has already patented, especially if that product doesn’t exist in the marketplace. If an idea can’t be patented, it’s best to know that before your company makes an enormous investment in its development and marketing. As you can see, there’s a lot riding on that attorney’s ability to correctly identify prior art.

Legal malpractice leads to civil litigation

Xpansion’s patent attorneys fell short of the “standard of care” in this case, and it nearly destroyed the company. It had to shut down for months and re-tool for the future. Hundreds of employees were laid off while the company regrouped.

Fortunately, instances of legal malpractice are relatively rare. But the effects can be enormous, financially and personally, to businesses and people alike. If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

Why We Pursue Legal Malpractice Cases

When you see a physician for treatment, you’re going into that relationship with a lot of trust. You trust that the physician has the expertise you need or will refer you to a specialist who does. Above all, you must trust that your physician knows and meets the standard of care established by the medical profession. If a physician fails to meet the standard of care, and his or her patient is harmed as a result, it could constitute medical malpractice.

The same dynamic exists between attorneys and their clients who’ve been harmed by legal malpractice. Luckily, our legal system provides a recourse for both types of harm.

It’s called legal malpractice

When you hire an attorney, you come into the relationship with two things: a legal issue that needs resolved and a great deal of trust in the attorney you are hiring.

How “good” is the attorney you’ve hired? You may have referrals from friends or business associates, people you believe you can trust. When taking referrals, consider how many attorneys the referrer has worked with to form a reasonable benchmark for comparison. You might ask how many attorneys they have seen in action?

In fact, there is no quantifiable way of measuring how “good” an attorney is or how one attorney stands competitively against others, the way you could say that one runner is faster than others in a race.

Much like you can’t measure prosecuting attorneys by convictions versus acquittals, you can’t rate civil litigation attorneys by their “batting average” in winning cases. All cases are different and nearly every case is subject to unpredictable twists and turns that make the idea of certainty very subjective.

So how is a client to know, when a case turns sour, whether the problem was legal malpractice? The idea of “standard of care” applies here, just as a similar standard applies to physicians.

What is legal malpractice?

Whether in civil or criminal litigation, legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer’s performance falls below the standard of care. “Standard of care” defines an attorney’s legal and ethical boundaries. It’s a “rule book” of sorts that defines what attorneys can and can’t do to advocate for their clients and what they are expected to do to protect the trust their clients have invested in them—and in the justice system.

The legal standard of care is a standard for competency, not for quality. An attorney can be competent according to the standard of care—doing everything he or she is supposed to do for a client—and still not be as knowledgeable, thorough, and creative as an opposing attorney.

That’s not legal malpractice. There’s no law against not being as good as the other guy and losing a case does not mean that legal malpractice was the cause (in fact, it rarely is).

But there may well be a case of legal malpractice when an attorney:

  • Misses deadlines in filing critical documents through ignorance, procrastination, or laziness
  • Damages a client’s case due to fraud or conflict of interest
  • Carelessly loses essential documents
  • Withdraws from a client’s case improperly (such as doing so without informing the client or the court)
  • Fails to know or to apply the law

These are just some of the triggers. Frankly, many law firms won’t touch this kind of case, but we believe we have a duty to help clients who have been injured by legal malpractice.

Serving justice by serving those wronged through legal malpractice

We’ve talked before about how to choose a civil litigation attorney. Doing that kind of basic research, either online or through the court system, can tell you a lot about an attorney. Face-to-face interviews—where you can learn what kinds of cases they have handled, how many, and what has made them successful—will go a long way to inform you about how they think, how they work, and how comfortable you will feel in extending your trust to them.

And though the process of vetting an attorney is well worth the effort when you consider what’s at stake, there is still no guarantee against legal malpractice.

When a client is injured by an attorney’s negligence, we feel strongly about taking on that case for the sake of the injured party. In a civil litigation case, justice may take the form of helping people get the compensation they need to rebuild their lives. In a criminal case, it may look more like making amends for months or years of a person’s life that’s been lost behind prison walls due to malicious prosecution or a neglectful defense.

If attorneys fail to perform to the minimum standard of care, don’t their clients still deserve justice? We think so. And we believe that others in our profession should be willing to step up and protect the integrity of the legal system we all depend on as well.

If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Fighting Legal Malpractice for Immigration Justice

Every case and every client comes with a unique, and often compelling, story. This one, we’re happy to report, comes with a happy ending. But, when we first began this journey with our client, there was nothing easy or certain about it.

When you talk about the “best and the brightest” emigrating to the United States, Sandeep Chaundhry* and his family met that standard in every way. A hard-working IT professional who came to America legally, Sandeep had arranged, through the attorney recommended to him by his company, to have his work visa extended as required by law.

Legal malpractice creates an immigration nightmare

A unique aspect of immigration law is that on some occasions, an immigration attorney can simultaneously represent the immigrant and the entity sponsoring his or her visa. In this case, Sandeep’s company was sponsoring his visa. So, as the applicant for the extension, his company hired an attorney who in turn came to represent Sandeep as well.

We want to point out that it’s relatively rare for an attorney to have such “dual representation.” The question is: what happens when the company and the immigrant have competing interests? Where should the attorney’s loyalties lie?

Sandeep did everything he was supposed to do to keep his status current. His attorney, unfortunately, did not. Because of the attorney’s missed deadlines, Sandeep and his wife were being threatened with deportation back to India. And to make matters worse, the couple could have been deported without their two young sons, who were both American citizens.

For Sandeep and his family, the American dream had spiraled into a legal and bureaucratic nightmare—one fueled by the lies and negligence of others.

Seeking protection and justice through Ohio civil litigation attorneys

This is when Sandeep came to us for help. He was forced into unemployment because of the uncertainty of his immigration status. Unable to work, and at the mercy of his attorney, he and his family depleted their savings account and were forced to charge basic living expenses to credit cards. He was exhausted from stress and gaunt from limiting himself to one meal a day to ensure his children would be fed.

We were certain that Sandeep had been the victim of legal malpractice. We also discovered evidence that his employer had been warned about his immigration status but had failed to alert him. Instead he consistently received lies and false assurances from his attorney and his company.

We initiated lawsuits against them both.

Two victories that changed everything

Both sides denied any complicity in the Chaundhry family’s woes and blamed the other party. But the evidence said otherwise. Ultimately, we were able to win significant settlements from both defendants.

The immigration attorney whose negligence set the whole thing in motion initially denied any wrongdoing. Eventually, that attorney agreed to provide a Lozada affidavit: an admission that the client had been diligent in his efforts to fully comply with immigration law and that he—the immigration attorney—had been responsible for the Chaundhry family’s problems with immigration authorities.

From Sandeep’s former employer, we sought a significant financial settlement, one that would not only compensate Sandeep for two years of unemployment but also for the significant loss of income that he would have to face by being forced to return to India.

Immigration law provides that, because he had failed to file properly for a legal extension and had overstayed his visa (on advice of his immigration attorney), Sandeep would be barred from returning to the United States for ten years. What he could earn in India was a fraction of his earning potential in the United States, and we built that difference—as well as the expenses associated with deportation—into the settlement we ultimately reached with the employer.

The settlement provided much-needed financial relief for the Chaundhry family, but it couldn’t prevent their deportation. We had been advised of that early on and openly shared that reality with Sandeep.

To India and back

The Chaundhry family (including, thankfully, the boys) were forced to return to India but maintained the hope of one day coming back to America. Sandeep loved this country and what it stands for. He appreciated the professional opportunities it offered him, and he wanted his sons to be raised and educated here.

A couple months after resettling in India, Sandeep wanted to begin the process of attempting to return to the United States. He went to the U.S. consulate and presented all the documentation from his case, including the Lozada affidavit.

Then he was stunned.

The consulate officials looked at his application and his evidence and stamped approval for his return to the U.S., waiving the ten-year waiting period. He found an employer who would sponsor him for a green card, giving him the right to permanent residence and, eventually, the opportunity for naturalization.

Sandeep is working again in the United States. His family is now living in Des Moines, Iowa and we keep in regular contact.

If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Overcoming Uninsured/Underinsured Insurance Complexities and Legal Malpractice

For Robyn*, it was one spirit-crushing event after another: first, a traffic accident left her with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt and physical scars she would carry with her for the rest of her life; then, soon after, the passing of her husband.

Because the motorist who struck her car was uninsured, Robyn needed strong representation from a civil litigation attorney. What she got from her first attorney was something considerably less.

Injured by an uninsured motorist

When a policeman observed a car running a stop sign, he pulled the car over and issued a citation. The driver explained that the traffic violation was out of his control, and that his brakes were failing. The driver was then instructed by the officer to drive directly home. If only he had.

Hours later, the driver’s faulty brakes allowed his car to careen, uncontrolled, into the car Robyn was driving. She suffered multiple neck injuries and would be scarred for life as a result. She would also start to pile up significant medical bills, with no way to pay them. To add insult to injury, she discovered that the driver was uninsured.

And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse for Robyn—her husband passed away.

A victim of civil litigation neglect

Overwhelmed, Robyn hired a local attorney to help her manage the aftereffects of the accident. The attorney was a former county commissioner who, unknown to Robyn at the time, was under investigation for embezzlement. He would later be acquitted, but his involvement in the investigation and the subsequent trial were contributing factors to his neglect of Robyn’s case. We also discovered that he was battling alcoholism.

Whenever she inquired about her case, the attorney told her that everything was proceeding normally. After more than two years, Robyn grew tired of the delays (while her medical bills were mounting). She approached us to look at her case.

When we looked at the court docket, we found that almost nothing that should have been done on Robyn’s behalf had in fact been acted upon. Her attorney had repeatedly failed to file proper documentation, and deadlines had been missed without her having been notified—a lapse on the part of her attorney that was critically detrimental to her position. Robyn then fired her attorney and hired us to salvage her case.

Starting over to remedy legal malpractice

Her case had been so mishandled that we had no choice but to dismiss it entirely and start over. It took nearly a month to recover her file from her previous attorney, and we unearthed the fact that Robyn had been eligible for substantial uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from her own insurance provider.

Though the deadline had passed for filing a claim with her provider, we pushed for filing anyway, alerting the insurer that her previous attorney had failed to provide her with proper notice of the filing deadlines. Persistence paid off (as it frequently does, especially when you are pushing for the right thing to be done). We also sued the other attorney for malpractice and won a settlement that, combined with the insurance settlement Robyn received, allowed her to pay her medical bills.

Looking out for personal injury victims

Our practice exists, in large part, due to the prevalence of neglect, which too often results in someone’s injury. It can come in many forms, from an automobile’s faulty braking system to somebody ignoring a police officer’s instructions—both of which contributed to Robyn’s injuries.

But neglect can also include harming somebody by failing to do what’s best—and what’s right. Robyn’s suffering started with the neglect of an uninsured motorist.  Her suffering was prolonged by the neglect of an attorney who failed to provide her with the most basic representation.  And, finally, her suffering continued because of an insurance company that promised coverage and then tried to deny it by hiding behind technicalities like filing deadlines.

The attorney and insurance provider should have had Robyn’s best interests as their first priority, yet it took legal pressure to compel them to do the right thing for a victim who deserved better.

We take legal malpractice very seriously. Attorneys should be held accountable for their actions and decisions, especially when they veer from the standards that are the foundation of our profession. By pursuing those who fail to uphold those standards, we protect not only our profession, but also our community as a whole.

If you suffer a personal injury that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced Ohio trial lawyers at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.