Harris v. Farmer, Court of Appeals of Michigan, February 4, 2010
Facts: Defendant served as Plaintiff’s court-appointed attorney in a criminal proceeding in which plaintiff was charged with identity theft. The prosecution alleged that plaintiff attempted to use another individuals social security number to obtain employment. Plaintiff was convicted and his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel was rejected.
Plaintiff subsequently filed an action for legal malpractice against his court-appointed attorney, alleging that he had failed to properly cross-examine a witness, failed to object to evidence offered by the prosecution, and failed to present necessary evidence. The attorney moved for summary judgment, and the lower court granted his motion. Plaintiff appealed.
Issue: Are counsel’s alleged shortcomings at trial actionable as professional negligence?
Although an attorney has the duty to fashion a strategy so that it is consistent with prevailing Michigan law, he does not have a duty to ensure or guarantee the most favorable outcome possible
[M]ere errors in judgment by a lawyer are generally not grounds for a malpractice action where the attorney acts in good faith and exercises reasonable care, skill, and diligence.
The Court further noted that even if the attorney had done everything Plaintiff complained he did not do, the result of the proceeding would not have been different. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the malpractice action.
Lesson: Decisions involving trial tactics or litigation strategy are not subject to attack in an action for legal malpractice pursuant to Michigan law. This is especially so where counsel’s professional judgment was not the cause in fact of his former client’s alleged injuries.