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Cop a Plea. Then Sue Your Lawyer: A New Spin on "Settle and Sue"

Alampi v. Russo, 345 N.J. Super. 360 (App. Div. 2001)

Student Contributor:  Melissa Goldberg

NJ Underlying Criminal Defense

Facts: Plaintiff, a public accountant, sued his attorney for legal malpractice alleging his professional negligence caused him to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge for refusing to give information to the IRS in a tax investigation. Plaintiff contended that his attorney failed to keep him properly informed about the potential of a criminal investigation and failed to arrange a meeting with the IRS where the government could have been persuaded to either grant him immunity or decide not to prosecute.

Issue: Does an unimpeached guilty plea in a criminal proceeding bar recovery in a legal malpractice action?

Ruling: Yes, Plaintiff cannot seek in a civil action to renounce his federal conviction, or seek money damages for a wrongful conviction based on his guilty plea which he never otherwise attacked, since:
1) He unconditionally pled guilty to a criminal offense committed before representation was commenced; and
2) It would undermine the guilty plea if a defendant were allowed to argue that no prosecution would have occurred if his attorney had used different tactics.

Lesson: Public policy does not permit defendants who have been convicted of a criminal offense from profiting from their illegal conduct by shifting blame to their defense attorneys.

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Posted in: Criminal Law, New Jersey