Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mt. Holyoke Homes v. Jeffer Mangels (Cal. Ct. App. - 24, 2013)

Be careful whom you list as references on your resume.

Mt. Holyoke Homes L.P. sues Jeffer Mangels for legal malpractice.  There's an arbitration clause, which the trial court enforces.  Former Judge Patricia Collins gets selected as the arbitrator, but she gets bounced because she's got a prior relationship with defendant's counsel.  So former Judge Eli Chernow gets selected.  Judge Chernow discloses certain things, but ultimately the parties are okay with him.

The case gets arbitrated.  Jeffer Mangels wins.  Judge Chernow rejects plaintiff's malpractice claim, gives defendants $18,000 in unpaid legal fees, and awards defendants almost $300,000 in attorney's fees and $150,000 in costs for the arbitration.

Flat out victory for Jeffer Mangels.

Except for one thing.

After being crushed, plaintiffs go online.  They find a resume in which Judge Chernow lists Robert Mangels -- a pretty big player at Jeffer Mangels -- as a reference.

Plaintiffs move to vacate the arbitration award.  The trial court denies the motion.

The Court of Appeal reverses.  Holding the plaintiffs were compelled to arbitrate.  But that Judge Chernow's failure to disclose that he listed Mangels as a reference could reasonably lead someone to doubt his ability to impartially adjudicate the lawsuit against Jeffer Mangels.

So the arbitration award's for naught.  Do it all again.

Well-known arbitrators are generally "big names" in a particular legal community.  They know a lot of people.  They may even list some as references.

But it can get you disqualified.  So be careful.

And it's something to check out.  At least once you've lost the arbitration.