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Stephen Gillers
Professor of Law, NYU
Recent Activity
This is indeed sad given the work of so many lawyers for so long. But I notice in the Daily Journal report, this sentence: "The group's final package of 67 proposed rules ran several thousand pages, including extensive official comments for each rule, supporting documents and history from the commission's deliberations." Several thousand pages? Of course, I assume most of the pages were memoranda in the form of legislative history. Kutak produced a great deal of paper, too. But when it's all whittled down, was the text -- black letter and comment -- of manageable length or was it prolix? Most ABA rules are standards, which of course creates ambiguity, but with exceptions for certain kinds of rules, that would seem to be the wisest approach, leaving the rest to case law and bar ethics committee opinions to fill in the gaps,
The details here are important and the opinion is worth close study. The two claims the circuit upheld (reversing the district court) are for fraud and fraudulent concealment. The fraud claim essentially alleges that the defendant company and law firm lied in earlier litigations, which were brought by the putative class members and sought damages for asbestos exposure from a BASF product. The defendants cited the N.J. litigation privilege to absolutely protect statements they may have made in those earlier litigations, even if they amounted to fraud on the court, which of course they did not concede. (N.J. law applied, even though the underlying tort claims arose in several jurisdictions, because no one claimed otherwise. So the point was waived.) The court's discussion of why the litigation privilege does NOT protect the fraudulent conduct the plaintiffs allege merits analysis. The second claim the court upheld was for fraudulent concealment and is in some ways more interesting. The allegation is that the defendants destroyed or withheld evidence that would have helped establish BASF's liability for injuries from asbestos. The circuit looks at this claim through the lens of spoliation. The discussion focuses on what plaintiffs have to prove to establish that the spoliation caused them damage. We don't often see spoliation claims against a party's law firm as well as the party and of course these are only claims, not proof. The interesting angle is that the prospect of such liability is a backstop to criminal liability under federal and state obstruction statutes. Allegations of obstruction are usually leveled when the underlying matter is criminal. The obstruction charge may accompany the charge for the crime whose investigation was obstructed. Yet spoliation addresses the same conduct as obstruction -- concealment, alteration, destruction. So while civil lawyers may not fear a criminal obstruction charge for such conduct because it rarely happens, what this case warns is that they may face substantial damages if the allegations can be proved. It is a danger in addition to Rule 11 sanctions.
Thanks for these and keep them coming. You'll notice that all the works but Malcolm's are fiction or plays (and one misspelled poem). We're especially interested in fiction, although for a few years we assigned a book entitled A TRIAL BY JURY, about an actual murder trial in Manhattan state court told by the foreman of the jury, a Princeton professor, D. Graham Burnett (who came to the class). It worked well. I do recall Malcolm's quote about the judge, and the profile of the judge, a man before whom no defendant would ever want to appear in my opinion.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2014 on Law and Literature at Legal Ethics Forum
Doesn't it depend on what it contains? Scope of work, identity of client, and fee are ordinarily not within the privilege. But a retainer agreement could contain more, though this one may or may not. And of course, technically we're not talking about the privilege but confidentiality and the full agreement is within the protection of Rule 1.6, which the client has the option to waive.
Unless Christie is prepared to waive privilege, which I think is the litmus test of the cooperation claim.
Why won't Bochco put L.A. Law on DVD or the Web? Maybe we need a petition.
I think by "independence" is meant freedom from the influence of others who might sway the lawyer from his or her loyalty to the client. Structurally, those others would include nonlawyers with equity interests in a law firm or who have managerial authority over the legal work of lawyers in the firm. I'm not sure what else it includes.
Toggle Commented Aug 27, 2009 on The ABA's 20/20 Commission at Legal Ethics Forum