Sanctions for Retaining Non Admitted Co Counsel Are Not Proper

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In Marriage of Bianco, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District overturned a sanctions award of attorney fees. The award was rendered in a family law dispute.

An attorney represented a woman in a dissolution proceeding involving her husband. During the proceedings, the attorney hired outside counsel to act as co-counsel at trial. The co-counsel was not eligible to practice law in California at the time. The court later learned of co-counsel’s ineligibility, declared a mistrial, and invited the husband to move for sanctions. The husband filed a sanctions motion and the trial court awarded $43,000, pursuant to California Rules of Court Rule 2.30(b).

The court of appeal reversed the fee award, noting that Rule 2.30(b) provides that a court may order a person to pay reasonable sanctions, if he or she fails to comply with any applicable rules. The court noted that Rule 2.30(b) does not authorize sanctions for violations of the California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct. 

Based on this reasoning, Rule 2.30(b) did not apply, and the fee award was reversed on this basis alone.