J, a Santa Barbara county attorney was held in contempt and was ordered to pay $5310 in sanctions to the other side’s attorney for his lack of candor with the court about the fact that settlement funds have been paid.
After the case settled, Attorney J. filed a motion to enforce the settlment agreement because he contented, they were taking too long to pay the settlement. A hearing was scheduled. 4 days before the hearing date, he received the checks paying the settlement in full. Attorney J. did not take the matter off calendar but showed up in court on the day of the hearing and when asked by the court, he answered: “I haven’t received word form opposing counsel. I don’t know – has there been any communication with the Court?” The court went ahead with the case and granted what Attorney J. was asking which included monetary sanction against the opposing side’s attorney.
When the other side found out, they filed their own motion to set aside the order and to issue sanctions against attorney J. In opposing this request, Attorney J. argued that he didn’t make a false statement to the court because the court never asked him if he had received the settlement checks.
Ruling: An attorney is an officer of the court and owes the court duty of candor. This means that a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer. (Rules of Profesional Conduct, Rule 3.3(a)(1).) Every attorney has a duty never to seek to mislead the judge by an artifice or false statement of fact or law. (Bus. and Prof. Code Section 6068(d).) The duty of candor is not simply an obligation to answer honestly when asked a direct question by the trial court. In includes an affirmative duty to inform the court when a material statement of fact or law has become false or misleading in light of subsequent events.
Here, counsel’s decision to not tell the court that he had received “word” from opposing counsel, was a concealment and a “half-truth.” This violates the attorney’s obligation as an officer of the court to be candid with the court. This was intended to secure an advantage and it worked, temporarily. Counsel had received the settlement check. This is not an insignificant fact. Kevine vs. Berschneider (2020) 56 Cal. App. 5th 916.
[Fancy words: “artifice”. It means: clever or cunning devices especially as used to trick or deceive others.]