Legal Malpractice Arising Out of Political Scandal

/ 27.Nov, 2012

The Philadelphia Inquirer has published an update on the Bowman v. K & L Gates legal malpractice action.  The legal malpractice action arose out of representation of Elmer “Al” Bowman by K&L Gates and Buchanan Ingersoll after Mr. Bowman was accused in the corruption scandal that brought down former State House Speaker John M. Perzel and State Representative Brett Feese.  Mr. Bowman was accused of working on tax-payer time to set up a program called Candidate Connect which was a campaign tool for Pennsylvania Republicans (“ComputerGate“).

The legal malpractice claim arose out of Mr. Bowman’s alleged desire to cooperate with authorities, and his counsel allegedly preventing him from doing so.  The malpractice action suggested a serious conflict of interest because Mr. Bowman did not know that K&L Gates was also representing Mr. Feese and Mr. Preski among others.  The Inquirer article notes that prosecutors’ statements during Mr. Bowman’s trial suggest these allegations had merit.  K&L Gates and Buchanan Ingersoll filed preliminary objections to the malpractice action on the basis, inter alia, that Mr. Bowman had not been exonerated, and the Bailey v. Tucker decision prevents legal malpractice claims from criminal defendants unless they establish they have pursued post-trial remedies and obtained relief which was dependent upon attorney error.  The Court of Common Pleas agreed, and sustained the preliminary objections.  Mr. Bowman’s counsel appealed, and the matter was settled on November 9.

In terms of legal malpractice avoidance, this case is a reminder, among other things, of the importance of examining actual and/or potential conflicts of interest.  Conflicts of interest are a major cause of legal malpractice and disciplinary actions.  Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7-1.10  are good guides for identifying and avoiding conflict.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire (H.T. B.C.B.)