Court Opinions- Feb 04, 2019

LeHouillier v. Gallegos 

Della Gallegos fell ill with a brain tumor in 2009. She later came to find out that Dr. Steven Hughes failed to catch the tumor on an MRI scan three years earlier and considered to sue for medical malpractice. If the doctor had caught the tumor earlier, it could have been removed without invasive surgery that left her with a lifetime of negative side effects. Her attorney, Patric LeHouillier, decided to drop the suit because it would not have made sense financially. But, there was disagreement between Gallegos and LeHouillier. 

Gallegos claimed he dropped her case but failed to inform her. He was unable to provide written documentation or proof he communicated this decision. At this point, the statute of limitations had passed and she was unable to pursue the case with another attorney. 

Gallegos then decided to sue LeHouillier for legal malpractice. She claimed LeHouillier’s negligence stopped her from successfully suing Hughes. The trial court found that Hughes was guilty of medical malpractice and LeHouillier was guilty of legal malpractice. The Court of Appeals remanded for a new trial and said the attorney-defendant is responsible for proving that any underlying judgment would have not been collectible. The Supreme Court was asked to consider who bears the burden of proving that a judgment against Hughes would have been collectible. 

The Supreme Court found that it is the client-plaintiff’s responsibility because the collectibility of the underlying judgment is essential to the causation and damages elements of a negligence claim against an attorney. The court found that the record reflected that Gallegos failed to present sufficient evidence of collectibility but that the lower court did not require her to prove the issue at trial. The court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for a new trial.

People v. Kubuugu

An officer arrested Simon Kubuugu on suspicion of erratic drunk driving, and he was charged with numerous counts including driving under the influence and child abuse. Kubuugu claimed he had only started drinking once parked and that the beer cans found in the car were from days before. The officer who had stopped him later reported Kubuugu smelled like alcohol.  

The officer testified at trial without being qualified as an expert. He stated that the smell of alcohol on the defendant was coming from his pores and not from a recently opened beer and said this meant the alcohol had already been metabolised into his system. 

The Court of Appeals found the officer was not in a position to provide expert testimony, under conditions of lay testimony. Since the testimony of the officer influenced the outcome of the driving while intoxicated charge, the error was harmful.  

The Court of Appeals  revised the charges and found Kubuugu  guilty of child abuse, reckless driving and driving while ability impaired, dropping the charge of DUI. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ findings and upheld the most recent decision. 

People v. Barrios

The Supreme Court was tasked with deciding if Dominic Barrios, a minor, was given proper representation and explanation of his rights. The court charged Barrios with 18 criminal counts, including kidnapping, aggravated robbery and sexual assault after he ambushed a women in a Target parking lot, got in her car, told her to drive to a remote location, and proceeded to make her perform sexual acts.  Law enforcement arrested Barrios at his grandmother’s house around 2 a.m. As his legal guardian, she gave her consent for Barrios to speak with authorities after she was informed of both their rights and signed all the necessary paperwork. 

After Barrios was brought in for questioning, he was also informed of his rights and signed all the documents requested.  

But the trial court found that there was a lack of guardian presence when Barrios signed his waiver. The court decided to suppress his statements made in custody on the grounds that he was not given a chance to confer and discuss with his grandmother and the waiver undermined the seriousness of the offenses. 

Ultimately, the Supreme Court overruled the findings of the trial court and decided that the statements were legally obtained and can be used. Justices Monica Márquez, Rich Gabriel and Melissa Hart dissented to the decision. 

They raised ethical issues with the finding including the idea that the guardian and minor did not have enough time to consult and that an elderly woman awakened in the middle of the night likely didn’t completely understand what she was signing. 

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