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Withdrawing from a case

The situation in the 8th District case last week of Rolf & Golfman LPA v. Nour Management was pretty straightforward:  the plaintiff law firm had represented the defendant in a business deal, hadn't gotten paid, and sued them for just north of twenty grand.  The defendant's lawyer filed a motion to withdraw as counsel in January of 2006.  A month later, on February 16, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment; on that same date, the court granted the defendant lawyer's motion to withdraw, and told defendant that he'd have to get another lawyer to reply to the plaintiff's motion.  Although a new lawyer contacted the plaintiffs, he never filed a notice of appearance or responded to the motion for summary judgment, which the granted on March 28, a little over five weeks after it had been filed.

The defendant's 1st assignment of error was that

The trial court erred in entering the unopposed motion for summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff immediately after allowing the defendant-appellant's legal counsel to withdraw from representation.

Judge Calabrese bought it, but the other two judges, Celebrezze and Sweeney, didn't, noting that an abuse of discretion involves some legal error, and the judge really hadn't made one in ruling on the motion more than five weeks after it was filed.

But how about letting the defendant's lawyer withdraw in the first place?  One of the requirements for withdrawal is that "the lawyer has taken reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to the rights of his or her client," and it's hard to see how leaving him facing a summary judgment motion isn't a "foreseeable prejudice."

I went back and checked the court's docket, though, and it reflects that the motion to withdraw was unopposed, so that would be a tough argument to make.  And although the basis of the motion isn't specified in the court's decision, it probably wouldn't be unwarranted, in light of the underlying action, to believe that it might have something to do with someone not getting paid.

And if there's a moral to the story, that's probably it:  while there are many places where you may get a sympathetic reaction to the explanation of why you stiffed your lawyer, the courts aren't one of them.

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