Wednesday, October 1, 2008
C.A. Upholds Six-Figure Malpractice Award Against Attorney
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a six-figure award against Los Angeles attorney Eddie B. Jamison for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and financial abuse of an elder yesterday.
Ruling that Ventura Superior Court Frederick H. Bysshe did not abuse his discretion when he rejected a motion for a new trial based on Jamison’s proffer of newly discovered evidence and the attorney’s claims that opposing counsel had suborned perjury during trial, Dix. Six affirmed Ventura Superior Court Frederick H. Bysshe’s award of more than $122,000 in damages and attorney fees against Jamison.
Jamison represented Patrick McComb, a man who had falsely presented himself to 78-year old Merle Peterson as her nephew. McComb persuaded Peterson to obtain a $250,000 loan secured by her home in order to invest the money in a night club joint venture.
The attorney met with McComb and Peterson to discuss financing the nightclub, advised Peterson about various lenders, selected a lender, completed the loan application, transmitted the documents necessary to close the loan under cover of his letterhead, communicated with the lender and title company, reviewed the loan documents, and attended the loan closing with Peterson.
After the closing, the lender gave Jamison a $4,000 referral fee from the loan proceeds, and received an additional $10,000 from the loan proceeds as repayment of a loan he made to McComb. The entire net proceeds of the loan were distributed directly to McComb.
Jamison did not inform Peterson or any other party to the loan transaction that he was not acting as Peterson’s attorney. Nor did Jamison refer Peterson to independent counsel, an accountant, or financial advisor. Jamison also did not disclose the referral fee or loan repayment to Peterson.
Peterson defaulted on the first loan payment, and the lender initiated foreclosure proceedings. Peterson passed away shortly thereafter, and. the executor of her estate filed suit against Jamison.
Jamison later moved for a new trial after Bysshe entered the award against Jamison, and presented a document purportedly executed by Peterson acknowledging that Jamison did not represent her, and agreeing to waive any conflict of interest with his representation of McComb should she hire Jamison at a later date, which he claimed to have received from an anonymous source.
In addition, Jamison claimed Wood’s attorneys, William B. Steinmeyer and Thomas M. Roth of Steinmeyer Roth LLP, had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence.
At trial, the executor denied having ever seen any documents demonstrating McComb’s intent to repay Peterson for the loan, but after trial, Jamison discovered two checks from McComb to Peterson, totaling $27,900.
Writing for the appellate court, Presiding Justice Art Gilbert, joined by Justices Kenneth R. Yegan and Paul H. Coffee, concluded that Bysshe did not abuse his discretion in denying Jamison’s motion.
Gilbert noted that the document came from an unknown source, and there was no evidence as to the circumstances of its creation. He further reasoned that Jamison’s actions appeared to belie the words of the agreement, and there was no showing that Peterson had any independent legal advice.
Jamison also had an opportunity to discover the checks prior to trial, but failed to conduct discovery, Gilbert explained.
“Under the circumstances, the trial court could reasonably conclude that any irregularity did not prevent Jamison from having a fair trial,” he wrote.
Steinmeyer commented that the court’s opinion conveyed the message to attorneys that “you can’t claim that a client has waived the fact that he is the attorney and then proceed to do the work that an attorney normally does while claiming you’re not the attorney.”
He suggested Jamison “should take heart by what the court has said and should govern himself accordingly.” Steinmeyer accused Jamison of engaging in a “smear campaign” against his law firm and Bysshe.
“This guy’s a nut,” Steinmeyer said, alleging that Jamison had also threatened and harassed his family and Roth’s family. [Steinmeyer later clarified that statement; see below.]
Jamison denied the allegations. “I think they’re falsely trying to set up a record to get me accused of some crime,” he said. “I’ve never been sued to slander, because, as you know, truth is a defense.”
He said that he has filed two lawsuits against Steinmeyer and Roth for fraud and malicious prosecution in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The fraud case was struck down as a SLAPP, but Jamison said he is appealing the dismissal and will also appeal Div. Six’s decision to the state Supreme Court.
Jamison’s attorney, James Little of J.J. Little & Associates, said that the scope of liability in yesterday’s decision was “frightening.”
It “makes the attorney responsible for all harm that flows from a referral, an innocent referral,” Little said. “I don’t think I’d ever refer anyone again.”
He suggested that Jamison “did a former client a favor by trying to introduce him to a traditional lender.” Because he said Jamison believed the loan was a family transaction and had no reason to believe otherwise, Little opined that there were no red flags warning Jamison would be responsible if the client was lying.
“It’s amazing because the opinion appears to say that…it’s okay for attorneys to withhold evidence [and] commit perjury at trial,” Little said.
Jamison said the opinion was “a total setback at justice,” issued in retaliation for his contribution to the website calling for the impeachment of Bysshe.
“I think the guy is very corrupt,” Jamison said. “It’s a good ol’ boy’s club up there in Ventura.”
Bysshe declined to comment because the appellate court’s decision was not yet final.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Vincent O’Neill, the supervising judge for the Ventura courthouse’s civil department, disavowed Jamison’s personal attacks on Bysshe. “Whatever’s being said about him, Internet or otherwise, is just a shame,” O’Neill said.
“The personal attacks are absolutely untrue,” he continued. “[Bysshe] is a judge of the highest integrity.”
The case is Wood v. Jamison, 08 S.O.S. 5558.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
UPDATE: Review was denied by the California Supreme Court on Dec. 17, 2008.
CLARIFICATION: On Oct. 17, Steinmeyer said in an e-mail to the MetNews:
“In a story appearing in your October 1, 2008 edition entitled ‘C.A. Upholds Six-Figure Malpractice Award Against Attorney,’ I was inaccurately quoted as stating that Eddie Jamison had threatened and harassed my family and the family of my partner, Tom Roth. The reporter either misunderstood or misconstrued my statement. While Mr. Jamison has been engaged in a smear campaign against Mr. Roth and me that has included harassment we regard as threatening to us and our families, I am not aware of any instance where he expressly threatened our families.”
On Oct. 21, Steinmeyer sent a “Revised Retraction” reading:that Jamison had also threatened and harassed his family and Roth’s family.
“After discussion with Jamison's counsel, I offer the following revised retraction:
“In a story appearing in your October 1, 2008 edition entitled ‘C.A. Upholds Six-Figure Malpractice Award Against Attorney,’ I was inaccurately quoted as stating that Eddie Jamison had threatened and harassed my family and the family of my partner, Tom Roth. The reporter either misunderstood or misconstrued my statement. I am not aware of any instance where he expressly threatened our families.”
The reporter expresses certainty that Steinmeyer was not quoted inaccurately.