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Plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise. As a matter of law, it is the illegal conduct rather than the negligence of a convict's counsel that is the cause in fact of any injuries flowing from the conviction, unless the conviction has been overturned.
Appellant Carol Peller was an officer of a corporation trading in government securities. She and other individuals came under federal criminal investigation by the United States Internal Revenue Service because they were suspected of engineering illegal tax write-offs for wealthy investors. Appellant hired Darrell C. Jordan, a partner with Hughes & Luce, L.L.P., to represent her. A federal grand jury indicted appellant on 21 counts and also indicted her husband. Under a plea agreement, appellant admitted her guilt to one count and the United States dropped the balance of the charges against her, dismissed all charges against her husband, and recommended a relatively short prison sentence. Appellant sued appellees, Jordan and Hughes & Luce, L.L.P, claiming that they failed to tell her of an offer of absolute transactional immunity. Appellees moved for summary judgment on appellant’s claims, urging the trial court that appellant’s own conduct was the sole proximate or producing cause of her damages. The trial court rendered summary judgment with respect to all of appellant’s causes of action. The court of appeals affirmed. Appellant challenged the decision.
Was appellant’s own conduct the proximate cause of her damages, thereby warranting the grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees?
The Court affirmed the decision of the lower courts, holding as a matter of law, that because appellant pleaded guilty, remained convicted, and was unable to prove innocence, she could not have brought the claim against her attorneys. The court held that the summary judgment did not violate the open courts, outlawry, and equal protection provisions of Tex. Const. art. I, §§ 3, 13, 20.