Visitor Question

Can we sue an attorney found guilty of ineffective counsel?

Submitted By: Carolyn (Ferndale, WA)

Our attorney advised us to sign documents which we were told were continuances for a trial, when in fact they were not. The commissioner involved with the hearing has refused to release the mandatory recording of the hearing. The other attorney crossed his name off the signature page after the hearing.

Our attorney, over 2 years later, was found guilty of ineffective counsel. She changed her statement made in her declaration during her deposition, then changed her testimony about it on several occasions while on the stand, totally contradicting her declaration and deposition.

Her intent to cover the deceit that had occurred during the hearing and to protect the Commissioner and other attorney from investigation caused us insomnia, sadness, anxiety about her lack of performance, and depression at the consequences of signing documents.

I was even suicidal at one point because our attorney never rebutted any reports… and then to attend her trial and learn what she did was incredible. I had PTSD, insomnia, overeating from the stress, etc.

The court found her guilty of ineffective council in regards to that hearing and having us sign those documents.

The damage from her actions have altered our lives for the worse for the rest of our lives.

Is there a way to acquire compensation for the emotional distress and mental anguish caused by her ineffective counsel? Can we sue for professional negligence? This is what attorneys have malpractice insurance for, right?

We also were forced to sell our dream farm for $55,000 less than its appraised value in order to hire a competent attorney to undo what the first attorney did. We live in the NW corner of Washington State. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Carolyn,

The term “ineffective counsel” refers to an attorney in a criminal case who failed to render adequate legal representation to his or her client.

Ineffective assistance of counsel at trial is a violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. In determining whether a defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel the court must decide whether the attorney’s conduct so undermined the functioning of the adversary process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having produced a just result.

– Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984)

Read more about the Sixth Amendment and its protections here.

The Commissioner you allude to was likely appointed to assist the superior court judge with the case. According to Washington State Legislature Chapter 2.24

“Commissioners in Washington hearing criminal cases have power, authority, and jurisdiction, concurrent with the superior court and the judges thereof, in adult criminal cases, to preside over arraignments, preliminary appearances, initial extradition hearings…”

From the facts you present, it is difficult to know exactly what happened. There are too many variables left unanswered. What can be said is if you were denied your right to effective assistance of counsel, and that denial can be directly linked to your losses, then you may have a viable claim for monetary damages.

Whether or not the court would consider monetary damages based on PTSD, insomnia, and overeating from the stress, is unknown.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: July 19, 2016

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