Opposing Party Not Allowed to Use an Ethical Rule to Intrude in the Attorney-Client Relationship

JACKSON V. TRULY GREEN LANDSCAPE AND MAINTENANCE, INC. (Conn. Super., Nov. 2, 2011)

The plaintiffs, condominium owners, brought suit against numerous defendants for causing a fire at the condominium complex. The defendant, Salatiel Onofre, alleged to be a resident of White Plains, NY, an employee of Truly Green Landscape and Maintenance, Inc., filed a motion to dismiss, challenging the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs objected to the motion to dismiss, arguing entirely on their claim that counsel for defendant Onofre had no authority from his client to file the motion to dismiss challenging personal jurisdiction, because counsel had allegedly violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.5(b), which provides that the scope of representation, the basis or rate of the fee, and the expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation. Attached to the objection to the motion to dismiss was an email from Onofre’s defense counsel that postdated the filing of the motion to dismiss.

The court disregarded the email as it was not authenticated. The court stated that the marshal failed to comply with Connecticut’s long arm statute. The court further stated that since plaintiff have failed to present any evidence that the defense counsel violated Rule 1.5(b), they have failed to meet their burden that the court has jurisdiction despite the marshal’s noncompliance with the long-arm statute.

The court went on to discuss plaintiffs’ attempt to use a rule of ethics as a tactical advantage in this litigation and clearly stated that an “opponent in a civil lawsuit has no standing to intrude into the other party’s attorney-client relationship to overcome a glaring defect in service of process.” The court relied on the preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct, Scope, p. 3, which states that nothing in the rules should be deemed to augment the extradisciplinary consequences of violating such a duty.

Impact: This case continues to follow precedent that in Connecticut violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct do not give rise to a private cause of action. The violation of the rules may, however, be used in a legal malpractice action to establish a violation of the standard of care by violation of the rule.