June 2, 2017

Attorney-Client Communications

One of the requirements I have for any client is for there to be a clear channel of communication between the parties (I'm positive other attorneys require the same). This is a bilateral relationship. If the client inquires, I respond in a timely fashion. If I inquire with the client, I expect the same. For a productive attorney-client relationship, both sides need to uphold their end of the bargain. Otherwise, there can be serious ramifications.

This segues into a recent unpublished opinion that dealt with an attorney-client relationship that lacked communication and the client suffered the serious consequences.

Crabill et al. v. Brown, San Diego County Superior Court, Case # 37-2010-00151394-PR-TR-CTL

The summary of the case is as follows:

"Defendant Frank Brown appeals from the denial of his motion to vacate an order assessing over $250,000 in penalties arising from a breach of his duties as a trustee. Brown's motion, filed approximately 14 months after the penalty assessment order, claimed he simply forgot to disburse payments as the trustee and did not read his mail to receive notice of the subsequent court proceedings. The probate court denied the motion, finding that the time periods for statutory relief had long since passed and equitable relief was not warranted. Brown now contends the court abused its discretion in denying his motion because he presented compelling evidence that he had a satisfactory excuse for not appearing, acted diligently in seeking to set aside the order and, if he had appeared, had a meritorious defense. We see no abuse of discretion and accordingly affirm."

Some notable excerpts from the case include: 

"Crabill and Smidebush allege that over the course of the next year they sent letters to Brown's attorney seeking their distributions. Brown's attorney told them that he forwarded their letters to Brown but did not receive any response. Ultimately, in June 2014, Brown's attorney informed counsel for Crabill and Smidebush that he no longer represented Brown."

"The motion to vacate sought relief pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 473, subdivision (b) and 663. In support of his motion, Brown declared that after the court's final disbursement order, he believed he did not need to take any further action in regard to Smidebush because he had sent her a check for her distribution years earlier. He claimed he never paid Crabill because he wanted to directly hand her a check, but her family prevented him from seeing her. After several months of attempting to personally deliver a check to Crabill, he "came to believe" he had sent the trust disbursement, although he now recognizes he was mistaken. He attributed his mistake to "old age, medical issues and memory loss problems." He listed a broad range of medical issues, including a serious car accident, that "distracted from any trust-related matters."

"Brown further declared that he never saw any mail concerning trust issues because he does not have a "secure home mailbox," and that it was possible the mail "was inadvertently discarded or lost." He also explained that during the entire time period, he believed he was still represented by his former attorney."