The California Supreme Court has taken a firm position as to when a lawyer may oppose a client on a matter on which the attorney has worked, and the position is “virtually never”. The Court issued its opinion in Oasis West Realty, LLC v. Kenneth Goldman (2011) addressing whether a lawyer in his private capacity as a citizen can oppose a client’s project on which the lawyer worked several years earlier. The Supreme Court’s answer was the lawyer – at least on the facts at hand – could not.
Attorney Kenneth Goldman was a transactional attorney in Los Angeles who worked for several years for Oasis West in connection with a proposed housing development in Beverly Hills. After two years of work, Goldman advised Oasis that he and his firm would no longer work on the project. Two years after that, Goldman and his wife went door to door in their neighborhood to solicit signatures on a petition opposing the development. Goldman also attended a city council meeting and during public comment expressed his opinion that it was unreasonable for the City to require that persons soliciting signatures carry with them the full text of the proposal, as it was hundreds of pages long and weighed several pounds.
Upon learning of these activities, Oasis filed suit against Goldman and his firm for breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence and breach of contract. The defendants filed a special motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. They argued that Goldman’s activities came within his right of free speech and petition in connection with a public issue. They further argued that Goldman did not disclose any confidential information. However, the trial court concluded that the statute did not apply, finding that the complaint was based on Goldman’s alleged breach of duty, rather than on his petitioning and public commentary. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the gravamen of the complaint was Goldman’s public activity and that Oasis had not shown a substantial likelihood of prevailing such that the motion should have been granted.
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