The Robert G. McGrath Chapter of the American Inns of the Court met at the Lafayette Park Hotel on Thursday, November 10th, 2016. Attendees were treated to a presentation pulled from two aspects of a similar scenario. The first is from the hit TV series, “Better Call Saul,” a prequel to the massive hit, “Breaking Bad.” The second was pulled closer to home from a local Contra Costa attorney who went off the rails a number of years ago, moving from one practice to another, challenging opposing counsel to fisticuffs, descending into significant mental health challenges.
The presentation was broken into three vignettes – each presenting a viewpoint of a downward spiraling attorney, and the ramifications on those surrounding our fictional Saul.
Ariel Lee, Nataly Cortasso, and Kenneth Strongman portrayed the first vignette.
Ariel and Nataly acted as two Cal undergraduates, who were dealing with Saul as a troublesome, vexatious neighbor. Kenneth plays the attorney they approach to determine what their options are, as Saul has threatened them, their parrot, and their general well being. Kenneth offers mediation, emergency protective orders, and non-clets/No HAM orders, and then discusses a Civil Harassment Restraining Order as possible solutions.
At the end of each vignette, the Honorable Ed Weil stepped in with the law, and introduced the following: Family Code § 6200 Domestic Violence Restraining Order, Emergency Protective Order-Family Code § 6250, Penal Code § 13710(b), and Civil Procedure § 527.6.
The next vignette addressed the impact on Saul’s parents, played by Rita Holder and Greg Howard. C. Joseph Doherty was the attorney they approached, looking for solutions to the chaos their wayward son was creating in their life. The issue of safety was introduced, and again, the topic centered on Domestic Violence Restraining Order. Judge Weil went over the requirements for a Restraining Order. “Laura’s Law” WIC § 5345 was discussed, with the mental health aspects being developed, and what the process looks like, potentially leading up to a 5150. Additionally, Probate Code Conservatorship, Probate Code § 5350 was discussed.
The final vignette included Saul’s law partners, played by David Pearson, Janine Ogando and Bonnie Johnson. Emphasized here were the challenges a law practice would face when one of the partners goes off the rails. The focus was on the duties owed to a client (or client list) where one’s mental or physical ability is lacking. The partners discussed the Rule of Professional Conduct, Rule 3-110. That rule states that “‘competence’ in any legal service shall mean to apply the 1) diligence, 2) learning and skill, and 3) mental, emotional, and physical ability reasonably necessary for the performance of such service.” Further discussion focused on Rule 3-700, which requires mandatory withdrawal from a case if “the member’s mental or physical condition renders it unreasonably difficult to carry out the employment effectively.”
The group opened the floor up for questions, and lively debate flowed. The questions about partner liability, and appropriate screening was balanced with humor, and a focus on setting up an LLC with the right structure. For many attorneys, it is a sobering thought that when a client hires an attorney at a law firm, the client contracts for the services of all members of the firm.
Greg Howard is a former Army officer, married to Dr Clair Howard, and father of two. He is a second-year law student at JFK, and manages a sales team at AT&T.