NY Underlying Criminal Defense
Facts: Defendant attorney was paid by Plaintiff’s stepfather to help file a motion on behalf of criminal defendant Plaintiff. Defendant concluded that the motion he was asked to help file would be frivolous and offered to refund "some or all" of the payments made to him. Plaintiff was convicted of several crimes including attempted murder. Plaintiff’ brought a legal malpractice suit against Defendant that was dismissed.
Issue: Can the Plaintiff sue an Attorney who did not represent him at trial for legal malpractice in a criminal case if his conviction has not been overturned?
The Ruling: In affirming the lower courts grant of summary judgment for Defendant, the Court held that Plaintiff could not sue the attorney, based on the following considerations:
1) It is a "well-settled principle" that criminal defendants cannot sue attorneys for legal malpractice in their criminal cases if they were found guilty and that determination was not subsequently disturbed.
2) This principle is applicable to attorneys who represent the defendants at the criminal trial and those that represent the defendants solely outside of the court room.
The Lesson: The undisturbed determination of the plaintiff’s guilt is a complete defense to a claim for legal malpractice in a criminal case. These plaintiffs cannot sue their attorneys for malpractice. This applies to all attorneys who do work for criminal defendants and is not limited to their trial attorneys.
Posted in: New York