Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Navy SEAL Sues Former Lawyers for Malpractice

A Navy SEAL who was acquitted of war crimes has sued his former lawyers and a military legal defense nonprofit for malpractice.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, Eddie Gallagher accuses his former attorneys of delaying his case for their own benefit and running up legal bills. He is seeking compensatory damages of at least $75,000 (the jurisdictional limit) and punitive damages of $1 million or more.

In the complaint, filed in September 2019, Gallagher alleges the defendants “orchestrated a money-making scheme and purposely delayed his case … [and] allowed him to languish in pre-trial confinement for several months while engaging in delay tactics and needlessly running up the legal bills,” according to Fox News.

In August, one of the former attorneys sued Gallagher for $1 million in alleged unpaid legal fees. Gallagher alleges he doesn’t owe any fees, and his complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that if any fees are owed, they should be paid by the nonprofit group.

Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, was charged after photos surfaced of him posing with the dead body of an ISIS fighter in Iraq. He was found not guilty of the most serious charges, which included premeditated murder and shooting at civilians. He was convicted of one count of taking an improper photo and sentenced to a reduction in rank, partial pay, and four months confinement, which he served before trial, according to news accounts.

Read Gallagher’s complaint here.

North Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3: Diligence

A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

Comment [1] A lawyer should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer, and take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor. A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf.

[3] Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination. A client’s interests often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change of conditions. In extreme instances, as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client’s legal position may be destroyed. Even when the client’s interests are not affected in substance, however, unreasonable delay can cause a client needless anxiety and undermine confidence in the lawyer’s trustworthiness. A lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable promptness, however, does not preclude the lawyer from agreeing to a reasonable request for a postponement that will not prejudice the lawyer’s client.

[4] Unless the relationship is terminated as provided in Rule 1.16, a lawyer should carry through to conclusion all matters undertaken for a client. If a lawyer’s employment is limited to a specific matter, the relationship terminates when the matter has been resolved.

[6] Conduct that may constitute professional malpractice does not necessarily constitute a violation of the ethical duty to represent a client diligently. Generally speaking, a single instance of unaggravated negligence does not warrant discipline. For example, missing a statute of limitations may form the basis for a claim of professional malpractice. However, where the failure to file the complaint in a timely manner is due to inadvertence or a simple mistake such as mislaying the papers or miscalculating the date upon which the statute of limitations will run, absent some other aggravating factor, such an incident will not generally constitute a violation of this rule.

[7] Conduct warranting the imposition of professional discipline under the rule is characterized by the element of intent manifested when a lawyer knowingly or recklessly disregards his or her obligations. Breach of the duty of diligence sufficient to warrant professional discipline occurs when a lawyer consistently fails to carry out the obligations that the lawyer has assumed for his or her clients. A pattern of delay, procrastination, carelessness, and forgetfulness regarding client matters indicates a knowing or reckless disregard for the lawyer’s professional duties.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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