Associate Found Liable for Malicious Prosecution Despite Partner’s Decision to Proceed

“Every attorney admitted to practice in this state (California) has independent duties that are not reduced or eliminated because a superior has directed a certain course of action.” Justice Eileen Moore of the California Court of Appeal recently made this statement in an opinion that made clear to associates that they could not escape liability for malicious prosecution simply because their actions were based on a superior’s orders.

Mahaffey & Associates, a Southern California firm, sued a real estate developer and a number of its limited partners over ownership of a trailer park. However, email records show that the firm knew that litigating the case would require exorbitant legal fees for both parties and that bringing the limited partners into the litigation was improper.

Unfortunately for one Mahaffey associate involved in the case, she too was found liable for her actions even though she was merely following the directions of her superiors. While it is possible that her position within the firm did not afford her much wiggle room, the court found that her actions demonstrated that she knew that the case was meritless, and that she had a responsibility as an attorney not to engage in the prosecution of meritless claims.

Click here to read the Jay v. Mahaffey opinion and here for more information on the case.

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