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Sheller v. Superior Court - 158 Cal. App. 4th 1697, 71 Cal. Rptr. 3d 207 (2008)

Rule:

Although a trial court has the inherent power to disqualify a California attorney, it does not have the power to impose the apparently lesser sanctions of attorney fees and a formal reprimand. There is simply no reason to conclude that, even though a trial court has the inherent power to revoke an out-of-state attorney's pro hac vice status, it somehow has the power to impose every conceivably lesser sanction on that attorney -- especially when the trial court does not possess the jurisdiction to impose those sanctions on a California attorney. An attorney appearing pro hac vice submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of California with respect to the law of California governing the conduct of attorneys to the same extent as a member of the State Bar of California. Cal. Rules of Court, rule 9.40(f). The attorney appearing pro hac vice does not submit to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the California courts to a greater extent than California attorneys.

Facts:

A Texas attorney appeared pro hac vice for plaintiffs in a class action and sent a communication to prospective class members that contained at least one misrepresentation. The trial court issued an order to show cause as to why the attorney's pro hac vice status should not be revoked. After a hearing, the trial court declined to revoke the attorney's pro hac vice status, and instead ordered the attorney to reimburse defendant for substantial attorney's fees, as a condition of retaining his pro hac vice status. The trial court also formally reprimanded the Texas attorney. Thereafter, the attorney appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in ordering the attorney to reimburse the defendant for substantial attorney’s fees?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the order requiring the attorney to pay fees, granted mandate relief with respect to the order reprimanding the attorney, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that the trial court lacked authority to impose attorney fees as a sanction and also lacked authority to issue the formal reprimand. However, given that a California trial court's inherent power included the authority to disqualify a California attorney, and that revocation of an out-of-state attorney's pro hac vice status was, in effect, a disqualification of the out-of-state attorney, the court concluded that a California trial court's inherent powers included the authority to revoke an attorney's pro hac vice status when that attorney has engaged in conduct that would be sufficient to disqualify a California attorney. Accordingly, the trial court had to determine whether to exercise its discretion to revoke the attorney's pro hac vice status. The court concluded that although the trial court ordered the attorney to pay defendant's attorney fees, the order had no statutory basis, and the trial court could not have imposed a similar order on a California attorney. Similarly, the trial court formally reprimanded the attorney, which was not a sanction that the trial court would have had jurisdiction to impose on a California attorney.

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