Risk Update

Conflicts News — DQ Denial Overturned on Appeal, Drunk Driving Defense Conflicts, Coaching (the Kid Kind) Judicial Conflicts Considerations

Why Lowenstein Sandler Was Barred From Representing a Client”

  • “A New Jersey appeals court granted a motion to disqualify Lowenstein Sandler from representing one of the executors of the estate of a pharmaceuticals executive.”
  • “The appeals court overturned a ruling denying a motion by Angela Krivulka to disqualify Lowenstein Sandler from representing an attorney from the firm, Michael Lerner, as co-executor of the estate of Krivulka’s late husband, Joseph. But the panel also affirmed a lower court ruling removing Krivulka from her post as co-executor.”
  • “Krivulka sought to disqualify Lowenstein from administration of her late husband’s estate based on the firm’s representation of both her and her husband in their estate planning matters, beginning in 2009. And the appeals court, in an unsigned opinion, said her husband deliberately structured his estate, and concealed information from Krivulka, so that certain of his assets, as community property, would not pass to her.”
  • “‘Thus, we are satisfied that Lowenstein’s obligations to Mrs. Krivulka as her estate planning attorney presented a clear conflict that should have precluded Lowenstein from representing Mrs. Krivulka and Lerner jointly as coexecutors,’ the appeals court said.”
  • “Lowenstein, noting that the couple asked the firm to provide them joint representation, advised them about a potential conflict in that type of representation, and obtained waivers of the conflict. However, two weeks after signing the waiver, Angela Krivulka raised concerns about a conflict arising over Lerner’s relationship to Lowenstein. Later, in July 2020, Krivulka sued Lowenstein and Lerner for malpractice in federal court in New Jersey, claiming Lerner failed to provide her certain information about the estate.”
  • “Joseph Krivulka’s will gave Lerner the authority to appoint a third co-executor, and he named Harriet Derman, a former state judge now with DiFrancesco Bateman Kunzman Davis Lehrer & Flaum in Warren to that post. Derman proceeded to file a complaint in Monmouth County Probate Court, seeking confirmation that two out of three of the co-executors could authorize use of estate assets to pay administrative expenses of the estate.”
  • “The panel said Lerner’s interest in administering Joseph Krivulka’s estate consistent with his will ‘is clearly adverse to Mrs. Krivulka’s individual interest to obtaining the maximum financial benefit from the estate.'”

El Paso County sex assault convictions overturned due to lawyer’s offenses” —

  • “A defense lawyer had an actual conflict of interest when he represented an El Paso County defendant at the same time the lawyer’s own drunk driving cases were pending before the same prosecutor’s office, Colorado’s second-highest court determined on Thursday.”
  • “Because the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to conflict-free legal representation and District Court Judge David A. Gilbert failed to ensure the defendant knowingly gave up that right, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of Matthew Rodolfo Vansant Lopez.”
  • “‘Here, the court only asked if Lopez was aware of ‘current circumstances,’ and made no mention of the fact that defense counsel had been criminally charged,’ wrote former Supreme Court Justice Alex J. Martinez, who sat on the panel at the chief justice’s assignment. ‘Thus, the court’s inquiry was procedurally deficient.'”
  • “Unusually, at the same time he was representing Lopez, prominent defense attorney Dennis Hartley had cases pending against himself in El Paso County. Court records show a lengthy series of charges for driving under the influence, driving without a license and other traffic infractions. Most recently, Hartley pleaded not guilty in March of this year to five other driving-related charges.”
  • “The Court of Appeals previously recognized that when a defendant and his lawyer are both being prosecuted by the same district attorney’s office, there is a danger prosecutors ‘might take umbrage at a vigorous defense’ from the attorney and treat them more harshly in their own criminal case. Therefore, a conflict of interest is not hypothetical, but real.”

Coaching an Attorney’s Kid Doesn’t Automatically Disqualify Judge, Ethics Panel Says” —

  • “Judges who coach should watch for curveball facts that might lead someone to reasonably wonder if they can be impartial in a case involving an attorney whose child is a player on their team, the Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions wrote.”
  • “The Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions warned in a formal opinion, however, that judges who coach should disclose on the record ‘reasonably relevant’ information about why they did not step away from such a case.”
  • “San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronland and Bryan Borys, director of research and data management at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, both raised concerns about the draft opinion’s use of the phrase ‘discretionary disqualification.’ The formal opinion includes a footnote discussing the differences between a judge stepping away from a case for ‘mandatory’ or ‘discretionary’ reasons.”
  • “As long as a judge-coach does not have a shared financial interest with the athlete’s parent, an insider’s knowledge of facts in a case or some other obviously disqualifying trigger, he or she can hear the parent-attorneys case, the formal opinion said. But the judge-coach must consider three other questions: Does the judge believe disqualification is in the interest of justice? Does the judge doubt his or her ability to be impartial? Would the average person doubt the judge’s impartiality?”
  • “The 12-page opinion does not say who or what prompted a review of the issue. The committee posted a draft version of the opinion in June and received just three responses.”
  • “‘THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS TO BE SPENDING TIME DEALING WITH THIS ALLEGED ISSUE!!!!!!’ Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer wrote. ‘as a judge, let’s just NOT get involved in our children’s activities?'”