It is a wondrous time to be a lawyer. That is, unless you do
plaintiffs construction defect cases, or believed that building codes served some
socially recognizable goal, or didnt realize that your clients almost have to be
injured before they could sue for shoddy building practices. (Aas v. Superior Court, 2000
Cal. LEXIS 9048)
On the other hand, another case has ushered in halcyon days
for First Amendment lawyers. The venerable Justice Mosk has pulled off the post-it,
removing the artificial categorization of commercial speech from the First
Amendment back to the California Constitution, Article I, which is broader,
greater, and unbounded in range. When I first read Gerawan Farming
v. Lyons (Nov. 27, 2000) 2000 Cal. LEXIS 8927, I had visions of skywriters blanketing the
Los Angeles sky with attorney ads. Alas, those images were quickly trounced with footnote
four, which allows for regulation of misleading lawyer speech.
The universe exploded for everyone else, though, as long as it is
truthful and non-misleading, which is a good standard for lawyers, too. Remember that everyone advertises, since almost
anything with your name on it, including cards, stationery and the ubiquitous coffee cups,
falls under Rule 1-400 (A)(2).
There was also a perceptible shift involving fiduciary duty issues in
a new State Bar Court case, In the Matter of Kittrell, (Rev. Dept., October 26, 2000) 2000
Calif. Op. LEXIS 11. (Although it is still on
Lexis, there are motions pending to reconsider.) A lawyer who had been a defendant in
civil litigation was found to have engaged in conduct involving malice, oppression, or
fraud, pursuant to special (but fairly common) jury instructions and verdict
forms. Plaintiffs lawyers routinely include these claims to possibly jackpot
into punitive damages.
This case indicates that lawyers should be very careful in rolling
the dice and think twice before having their day in court. Remember that an
attorneys deliberate breach of a fiduciary duty or a breach resulting from the
attorneys gross carelessness and negligence involves moral turpitude. Such a
breach even in the absence of a fiduciary relationship involves moral turpitude as a
matter of law. Although these may have been well-established principles,
they were never as tightly drawn.
Does this mean that Breach of Fiduciary Duty (fraud), equals Moral
Turpitude, equals violation of Business and Professions Code §6106 as a matter of law?
What about the potential preclusive effect pursuant to principles of collateral estoppel?
How are runaway juries factored into the equation?
During the week that case was published, the State Bar Court judge
who authored the decision was intellectually assaulted on Friday night at the supermarket
and nearly argued into the salad dressings. After graciously listening to a passionate
discussion, he gently extricated himself in order to pick up a quart of milk. He is a good
sport and did not object to my recounting this anecdote. A very special thank you for
years of service to the legal profession is owed to Judge Kenneth Norian.
Los Angeles attorney Diane
Karpman can be reached at 310/887-3900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.